Last week Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, sent out a league wide memo stating that players with symptoms of a concussion should not be allowed to return to competition that day. That statement is a significant improvement over the prior standard of removing a player from competition if they lose consciousness.
I applaud the Commish and his staff for focusing and acting on concussion safety, but he hasn’t gone nearly far enough.
Current medical understanding recommends that a player should be immediately removed from further competition if a concussion is even suspected with or without symptoms. The presentation of symptoms can often be delayed and not become evident for hours after the collision.
The policy requiring symptoms to be present before protecting a potentially injured player and then removing them from competition has an additional major flaw. This system requires a concussed player to take the first step and report the symptoms.
A recent poll of 160 NFL players interviewed by the AP revealed that 20% of players have hidden or minimized their concussion symptoms. This underscores what I’ve written many times. Athletes due to their intense desire to compete, ‘show your toughness mentality’ and in many instances financial issues must be protected from themselves.
The NFL can easily address the potential shortcoming of self-reporting by holding the sideline medical staff responsible for removing players from further contact for ‘suspicion’ of concussion. Protecting the athlete from potential brain injury should not be delayed for presentation of symptoms or waiting for loss of consciousness.
The NFL and NFLPA can enhance concussion recognition by providing qualified physicians to monitor the game via television. With DVR and the multiple angles routinely provided by network broadcasts, a trained physician could relatively easily monitor and review suspicious collisions and quickly notify sideline medical personnel. Games could be randomly assigned and the identities of the monitoring physicians should remain confidential in order to protect the process from undue influence.
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