Concussions have been a major topic surrounding the National Football League for years now, but only increasingly so over the course of the past seven or so years. While they have made a number of token gestures in a positive direction, even these have frequently been missteps.
Two years ago, for example, the league introduced an independent ‘concussion spotter’ who would watch games live and look for symptoms of head trauma, obvious or otherwise. He would have the authority to pull a player from a game for evaluation. We saw this happen to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Antwon Blake that season.
Yet we have seen this process fail time and time again. Just off the top of my head, the league dropped the ball completely in a playoff game last year when Bud Dupree hit Matt Moore. Moore immediately returned to the game, never being tested for a concussion, which he later was found to have suffered.
This season alone, there were two high-profile incidents that stood out in recent weeks. The Seahawks, in fact, were even fined $100,000 for not properly following the concussion protocol, and the Texans’ Tom Savage quivered on the ground, his hands shaking, after a hit a few weeks ago, yet only came out of the game a series or two later. He was just placed on injured reserve because of the concussion that he suffered.
According to ESPN’s Chris Mortenson, the NFL just instituted changes to the protocol, which includes the addition of and Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant that will be stationed in the league’s headquarters. But considering how well the centralized replay system has been received this year, I don’t have a high degree of confidence in this being very effective.
In addition to this change, the league will now mandate that all players who suffer “seizure-like symptoms” be ruled out for the remainder of the game in which such symptoms occur. I thought this was already a thing, but I guess not.
A change has been made for the postseason as well, which adds “at least” a third neurotrauma consultant to be on-hand for the playoffs. These are changes that have gone into effect immediately and are already in place.
Additionally, if an official removes a player from the game for suspected head trauma, he must inform the medical staff; again, how was this already not a thing? If you think somebody might have a concussion, then maybe people who can test to see if he has a concussion should be told about it. Wow.
Other changes include a provision that all players who are tested for a concussion at any point be re-tested within 24 hours. Any player who “exhibits gross motor instability or significant loss of balance” must also be evaluated.
These are steps in the right direction, on paper; but they are steps that should have been in place this entire time. And it won’t actually solve the problem if it’s not adhered to. The concussion spotters have failed to identify several high-profile concussions already.