Pop Quiz: A player gets laid out by a vicious and borderline illegal hit. Less than five minutes later, the player returns to action after a cursory exam, despite the league’s mandate that all players must pass a neurological test before going back on the field. The next day, the player learns he suffered a concussion on the play and risked serious mental and physical disability by returning.
Who is more deserving of criticism: The guy who laid the player out or the player’s team for letting him go back on the field, in violation of league rules, because they felt winning a game was more important than the long-term health of their man?
If you answered the latter, then I’m with you. James Harrison‘s shot heard ’round the world has shaken up the NFL in more ways than one. Most directly, we now have the precedent set for repeat offenders being suspended when fines don’t seem to work. However, it’s the indirect result which may alter the game even more greatly in the months and years to come. And it isn’t even Silverback’s fault.
It was painfully obvious to everybody watching that Colt McCoy was knocked the F out. That he returned to the huddle after missing only two plays meant he either had Roethlisbergian-level healing powers or the Cleveland Browns medical staff did a half-assed job checking him out. When it was revealed the next day that McCoy did indeed suffer a concussion, Cleveland came under fire for allowing him to go back into the game.
Cleveland’s horrid handling of the situation led to the NFLPA paying the Browns a visit. This on the heels on the league offices saying they are going to investigate the matter. Leave it to the Browns and their inept medical staff to bring the NFL and NFLPA together. Their shared concern being the whys and hows to the question of McCoy being reinserted in the line-up without undergoing the proper medical evaluation.
The upshot to all this is the renewed calls for independent medical personnel being stationed at NFL games whose job would be to evaluate if a player suffered a concussion and if/when he can return. Noted Pittsburgh Steelers hater Mike Florio is already on the bandwagon, spamming his own site with a number of criticisms over the Browns handling of McCoy. As usual, he doesn’t miss an opportunity to throw in a totally unnecessary cheap shot at the Steelers for their “tight-lipped” secrecy regarding the conditions of Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu. And, as usual, Florio completely misses the point that the Steelers were responsible and careful enough to keep both players out of the game after they took vicious blows to the head.
Oh noes! The Steelers didn’t immediately tell the nosy sideline bimbo or the annoying little football blogger exactly what happened to Hines and Troy! WAAH! WAAAAH! WAAAH!
The Steelers team neurologist, Dr. Joseph Maroon, is only one of the world’s foremost concussion experts. He was contacted by Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby before Sid decided to seek out the help of some other quack (and look where that’s gotten him). Dr. Maroon is the man who WROTE the baseline concussion testing policies and procedures the NFL follows. So I’m pretty sure if any team is beyond criticism for their handling of head injuries, it’s the Steelers.
Unfortunately, the Browns’ short-sighted blundering may have serious repercussion for the rest of the league. If these “independent evaluators” are brought in, you might as well kiss good-bye to any player who suffers a blow to the noggin’ for several weeks. As anybody who’s suffered a medical condition will tell you, if you see three doctors you often get three diagnoses. So what’s going to happen is, just like some referees are more liberal about pass interference and others are sticklers for holding, there will be some doctors who are extremely cautious while others who are more pragmatic. The crapshoot of which doctor you’re assigned will determine whether you miss one week or six.
In the meantime, I’m amazed the Browns aren’t facing any repercussions for clearly flouting the NFL’s concussion policy. Harrison’s hit was violent but it was also a split-second reaction that occurred during the heat of battle. The Browns allowing McCoy to return was a calculated deliberate act. If anybody should be facing harsh consequences over the incident, it should be Cleveland.