Much can be written in this space (and has been . . . and will be) about the NFL’s surprisingly defiant statement regarding the failure to give Cam Newton a locker-room concussion evaluation during the Panthers’ wild-card loss to the Saints. In re-reviewing the statement, I’ve noticed a peculiar omission from the league’s effort to explain away the decision to give him an abbreviated concussion evaluation in the sideline medical tent.
“When Mr. Newton took a knee as he was walking off the field, he did so at the direction of multiple members of the Panthers sideline coaching and medical staffs,” the statement explains. “Coach Rivera told the parties conducting this review that he instructed the quarterback coach to tell Mr. Newton to take a knee if he required medical treatment. That instruction was relayed by the coach to Mr. Newton via coach-to-quarterback radio transmittal. At the same time as the coach was providing his instruction by radio, Mr. Newton encountered a member of the Panthers athletic training staff, who had walked onto the field to examine Mr. Newton. That athletic trainer advised Mr. Newton to take a knee so he could examine Mr. Newton’s right eye. Mr. Newton told the parties conducting this review that he took a knee as he walked off the field because: (1) he was instructed to do so by his coach and (2) he wanted to show the athletic trainer his eye injury for the athletic trainer to remove the foreign matter. As outlined below, he did not lose his balance or trip as he went to the turf. This sideline dialogue was confirmed during the review and can also be seen on NFL Films video of the incident.”
The statement does not mention, in any way, the reason for the decision to instruct Newton to take a knee if he needed medical treatment. As the Panthers previously confirmed, the team told Newton to get down because it wanted to give backup quarterback Derek Anderson more time to prepare to enter the game. If Newton, who was only steps from the sideline, had finished his walk, an injury time out would not have been given to the Panthers — and Anderson would have been required to enter the game without warming up his arm.
So, basically, the Panthers (as many teams do) instructed Newton to feign vertical instability in order to take advantage of a tweak in the rules that buys time for a backup quarterback if the starter “can’t” make it to the sideline. By not mentioning why Newton was told to take a knee, the explanation could be confusing to someone who isn’t aware of the strategic benefit to taking a seat on the field instead of taking a seat on the bench, or in the sideline medical tent — which is there precisely for the kind of evaluation that was performed in plain view when Newton fell to the ground.
As mentioned earlier, this is no different than a defensive player faking or embellishing an injury to slow down a no-huddle offense, something that the league clearly frowns upon. In both cases, a player exaggerates (at a minimum) his condition to buy time for his team.
The league wisely didn’t mention the “why” regarding the instruction to Newton to take a knee because the next question would be, “Isn’t that a violation of the rules?” But with a rule on the books that now requires a concussion evaluation in the locker room for cases of vertical instability (more on that later tonight), the NFL had no choice but to characterize Newton going to the ground as something he meant to do, even if the reason for doing so violates separate rules regarding the manipulation of injuries for strategic gain.
So how will the league address this? Probably in a generalized memo as the 2018 season approaches that reminds teams that they should refrain from instructing or allowing players to feign or embellish injuries in a manner that delays the action, since that’s the kind of thing that could get viewers to change the channel.
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