Concussion Timeout Leaves NFL Players Woozy
The NFL is revising the questionable concussion protocol that allowed New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman to remain in the Super Bowl after a hit that left him wobbling. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the approved proposal likely wouldn't have actually kept Edelman off the field.
On Tuesday, the league's owners passed a rule to station a medical adviser, or "spotter," in the press booth upstairs with the ability to radio teams on the sideline when a player is suspected of having a concussion. According to the Associated Press, a team would be granted an injury timeout and "the player would be removed from the game and undergo an examination on the sideline at the very least." It's not unlike the practice the Big Ten recently adopted, in which a trainer in the booth looks for potential concussive symptoms and maintains contact with on-field officials and medical staff.
This is about the very least the league can do about concussions without actually doing nothing. Leaving aside the notion that it's not unreasonable to expect the NFL to have at least the same level of safety protections as a college football conference, these changes don't actually address the major flaw in the NFL's safety protocol: sideline tests. The revised protocol actually relies even more on these tests, which many medical experts agree are insufficient to accurately diagnose concussions. Edelman reportedly underwent a sideline assessment and was cleared to remain in the game.
As ESPN's Kevin Seifert noted after the Super Bowl, sideline tests are relatively easy for a concussed player to pass. A doctor on the NFL's head, neck and spine committee told Seifert that "only 10 percent of concussions result in an easily diagnosed loss of consciousness or obvious disorientation." Edelman was visibly shaken up, but many others who suffer concussions don't have their symptoms outwardly manifest so immediately and dramatically.
This puts the onus on the player to properly assess his own symptoms, a ridiculous thing to expect from someone who might have impaired brain function, especially an athlete who prides himself toughness. These issues recently came up earlier this month, when New York City Football Club goalkeeper Josh Saunders slammed his head into a goal post and remained in the game after a quick on-field assessment. NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis said after the game that he wouldn't have removed Saunders "unless he's begging to come out." That doesn't really jibe with the machismo of athlete culture.
Having a certified athletic trainer in the booth does have the benefit of adding another layer of checks and balances to a diagnosis process riddled with conflicts of interests. Stopping the clock at least allows teams to take more time to review their players. But until the league develops a more objective concussion test, the decisions are still up to team doctors and the players themselves, who might not realize what's in their best interest or just might not care.
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