Many old-school football purists claim that the NFL is getting too soft with some of its rule changes. It’s hard to argue that, but one aspect of the player safety movement in the league that everyone should support is the insistence on preventing and monitoring concussions and other head and neck injuries. Throughout my years of playing football, coaches have always said that you should play if you’re hurt but not injured, but I don’t think anyone should be playing around when it comes to head, neck and brain injuries.
The current league protocol implemented in 2013 has guidelines on how teams should handle suspected concussion candidates during and after games. During the game, the team medical staff, along with an “eye in the sky” in the press box, are supposed to closely watch the field in search of players who have potentially suffered head injuries. There is also a neuro-trauma expert on the sidelines not affiliated with the league who is there to assist the team medical personnel.
If a player is suspected of having a concussion, the team medical staff is supposed to immediately remove the player from the game, evaluate them based off a checklist and ask them certain questions to test the player’s concentration and memory. If a trainer deems that a player has a concussion, he must be taken to the locker room for further evaluation.
I think this is a great protocol for trying to contain the concussion issue in the league. However, there is an issue with this protocol that was put on display this past weekend in the Chiefs-Chargers game. Early in the second quarter, Chiefs star running back Jamaal Charles scored a 16-yard touchdown. Upon crossing the goal line, he took a hard shot to the head from Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers that resulted in Flowers leaving the game with a concussion.
Charles got up relatively quickly and went to the sideline without appearing to be seriously injured, but everyone watching the game could see he definitely got his bell rung. He was not given the concussion protocol test and remained in the game.
The following day, he told an ESPN radio show, “It definitely hurt. It’s like I woke up … I mean, like, a couple plays later, I was seeing light bulbs, like light bulbs around my eyes, and I was trying to catch them. But I was in the game so I was like, ‘Alright, let’s get the ball and run again.’”
He also said that he didn’t feel like he had a concussion, but more importantly, he didn’t want to go through the concussion protocol, possibly causing him to be taken out of the game like when he was taken out of the team’s playoff loss last season against the Colts.
Here’s where the problem lies with the concussion protocol: Even though it was shown that Charles didn’t have a concussion in a Tuesday post-game concussion test, the team medical personnel should’ve at least tested him during the game. It’s not about the first concussion most of the time. The real damage a player can take that can cause major, long-term problems is if a player faces a second concussion without having adequate time to heal from the first concussion. It’s the job of the team medical staff to protect the players from themselves.
Even if a player doesn’t show obvious signs of a concussion after getting hit, when they take a big hit to the head similar to the one Charles took, the medical staff needs to take the initiative to prohibit from re-entering the game until he’s been looked at. If a player doesn’t have concussion symptoms, the test should only take a few minutes. There was no excuse in Charles’ case for the medical staff to not even check on him. He had just scored a touchdown, and the Chiefs were about to go on defense. I hope it won’t take a major star sustaining multiple concussions in the same game for team medical personnel to take more initiative in these cases.