League acknowledges possible influence of coaches on doctors who evaluate concussions


As the NFL continues to wrestle with the challenge of thoroughly yet efficiently ensuring that players who have suffered concussions are properly diagnosed as having concussions (and are in turn held out of games) and that players who have taken blows to the head but have not suffered concussions aren’t held out of action unreasonably and unnecessarily, the league isn’t content to stop with the recent adjustments that placed an independent, certified athletic trainer at booth level for the purposes of spotting players who need to be evaluated.

Buried in an excellent Associated Press item that focuses primarily on the notion that players remain willing to hide concussion are quotes from Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, the co-chairman of the league’s head, neck, and spine committee, regarding the league’s intention to continue improving the in-game concussion diagnosis process.

“If the real problem is the doctors are being influenced by the coaches, then we’ve got to fix that,” Ellenbogen said. “If the [players’ union] says, ‘We want independent neurologists,’ we’ll discuss that. . . .  To be honest with you, we ain’t done.  When our committee meets with the team physicians after the Super Bowl, everything’s on the table.  You think this is the last rendition of what we do?  Heck, no.  We’re not done.”

Though Dr. Ellenbogen said he believes doctors aren’t going to be “bought and sold” to make team-friendly decisions based on the potential impact on their practices from an affiliation with NFL teams, his reference to the possibility that coaches can influence doctors should raise eyebrows.  Long suspected by many that coaches who peer over the team-hired doctors’ shoulders while the team-hired doctors are evaluating players for possible concussions tend to mudge any close questions toward diagnoses like “dirt on the face,” Ellenbogen’s acknowledgement of that very real human dynamic makes it even more important that independent neurologists be involved in the process.  Though, as Charley Casserly of CBS noted on Saturday, some teams believe that the use of independent voices undermines the credibility of a team’s medical staff in the eyes of the team’s players, the league crossed the bell-ringing Rubicon when turning to independent neurologists for the critical question of whether a player who has been diagnosed with a concussion can return to practice or to game action.

Now that the NFL has decided to use independent trainers to help flag the players who need to be evaluated for brain injuries, the use of independent neurologists to do the testing becomes, well, a no-brainer.

10 responses to “League acknowledges possible influence of coaches on doctors who evaluate concussions

  1. If the NFL focused on upgrading the quality of their football helmets, none of this would be necessary…the doctors or trainers looking over the shoulder of the team medical staff.

    There have been football helmets much safer than the helmets used today…used by a few NFL players who’s careers were threatened by frequent concussions. The new helmet designs, though they successfully protected the players, have been ignored by the NFL as a solution, for some reason, maybe Riddell, maybe legal exposer.

    Preventing concussions should be the focus of the NFL…instead, we discuss how many doctors and trainers are to be on the sidelines.


  2. While I agree certain members of teams may be influenced by certain other members of the team (and to think this NEVER happens is foolish and absurd IMO), there’s a much easier and simpler place to start…

    MANDATE hip pads, thigh pads, mouthpieces, and properly fitted helmets.

    The fact that the League HAS YET to do any of this makes any efforts on their part for bigger changes to player safety just ring hollow.

  3. Can electricians file a lawsuit if they get electrocuted? Who knew that could happen?

    Plus An “independent neurologist” doesn’t mean he won’t be biased against another team. It just means that they don’t work directly for the team.

    For example, if I grew up a bears fan in chicago, then I would have the power to keep Rodgers off the field until I thought he was ready to play…which would probably be when he was down 3 td’s with under 2 minutes to play. Just to be sure “in the name of safety”

    Isn’t there a waiver form that all NFL players can sign if they want to play?

  4. Doctors aren’t going to be “bought and sold” says this doctor who derives income from the league.


    Doctors are bought and sold everyday. Ask anyone in the legal profession or the pharmaceutical profession. Throughout this nation, thousands and thousands of doctors are nothing but waterboys for insurance companies and drug manufacturers. No difference in the NFL.

  5. Can’t we get over the concussion talk? These guys are compensated monetarily for the risk. Unless you want the nfl to play without helmets, concussions will happen. That being said, all the concussion talk is ruining the game. Moms don’t want their kids to play youth football anymore because they may get a concussion. Even at the pro level, the game is morphing into two hand touch. In a few years, all this concussion nonsense will kill the game we all know and love. Its already started to.

    There are plenty of jobs that men do in America that have inherent dangers associated with them and for a lot less money.

    College players get compensated with a free education. nfl players get paid millions of dollars…if they don’t want to risk concussion, they can opt to be safe by working in a cubicle for $30,000 per year.

    Everyone involved knows the risk. I think most of America would risk a concussion or two for a multi million dollar payday.

    The press focuses on the small minority who have post concussion problems. Instead of the multitude of players who have had a concussion and suffer no problems later in life.

    Anyone who has played the game, even High School players, have gotten their “bell rung.” 99% live normal lives today.

    Your constant focus on the concussions will only end up ruining the game. We all know the risk and so do the players. Lets let them make the decision with their own futures.

  6. I haven’t had time to read all the replies to all the posts on the subject so maybe this has come up before, but why not have the independent neurologists be paid by the NFLPA rather than the teams of the NFL? Seems an easy way to show that the NFLPA cares about it’s players first and foremost, and that the NFL won’t stand in it’s way on such an important point.

  7. Why aren’t the entire medical staffs 3rd party? But, who do they report to? The League? NFLPA? Ultimately, someone is paying doctors to give their medical opinion, and whoever is signing their checks has the ability to ‘peer over their shoulder’. Someone has to have the authority and ability to hire and fire the staffs, which puts someone in the position to influence the staff.

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