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Teams getting foggy on concussions

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Recent posts by Eric Edholm

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Posted Sept. 15, 2010 @ 12:29 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

It’s clear that despite the NFL’s best efforts to make more stringent and closely monitored guidelines on players’ safety regarding concussions, teams are getting a little foggy with the rules and with information pertaining to these ailments.

Concussions became the injury story of Week One. Eagles QB Kevin Kolb, Panthers QB Matt Moore, Eagles LB Stewart Bradley, Giants TE Kevin Boss and Bears LB Hunter Hillenmeyer all sustained concussions, and the practices of their respective teams have come into question.

First there was the report that Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder never examined Bradley, who stumbled on the field like a man who should be nowhere near a game after being concussed, before he went back on the field. The Eagles quickly pulled Bradley and Kolb, who wanted to return to the game after being driven to the turf face first by Packers LB Clay Matthews, off the field.

Both men have failed their first post-concussion tests but are said to be “feeling better.” It’s not clear if either man will play Sunday against the Lions, but why risk it?

Other teams have been foggy on their concussion histories.

The Giants adamantly claimed last year that Boss did not suffer any concussions last season, but then just Monday head coach Tom Coughlin explained that Boss had suffered one last season. When called out on it, Coughlin seemed to explain that the media was asking about a different concussion that happened at a different time.

The Bears claimed Hillenmeyer did not suffer one, either, this preseason. Then Tuesday they promptly placed him on injured reserve with — you guessed it — a concussion. Hillenmeyer was upset, naturally, but the Bears said they were erring on the side of caution. It makes you wonder, though, why they were misleading about it at first.

“Player health and safety has and always will be a priority with our organization,” Bears GM Jerry Angelo said. “Unlike other injuries, there is no defined timetable for a concussion. After consulting with our doctors and Hunter, this was the best way to proceed. We will miss his contributions this year, but it is the right decision given Hunter’s circumstances.”

I have never been given a good reason why there are not one or two exemption spots on a roster for injured players who could return later in a given season. If a player suffers an eight-week injury, let’s say, the team is forced into a brutal decision: eat up a roster spot and wait, or put him on I.R., ending the season of a player who could help for the stretch run.

For me, this is tailor-made for concussions. Because there is no clear timetable for a return, leave a roster exemption open for these kinds of injuries with a ton of gray area.

Recent reports have exposed two ugly stories: One, concussions have been linked to increased rates of suicide in football players, and two, concussions in sports in general are on the rise. If you're looking for an Achilles heel for the Golden Goose of the NFL and what could knock it off its perch, here's one of them. People will not stand for players' health, especially their mental health, being compromised. The NFL has tried to combat the issue, but it's clear that more pressure must be put on teams for better transparency here.

My guess as to why teams are being so foggy? They want to cover their tails. The more they admit publicly, the more they are responsible for the players’ health and actions thereafter. If a coach or trainer or doctor clears a player who then suffered further head damage, the flood gates could open.

But I would argue that transparency on these issues would act as a self-policing mechanism for coaches and teams. They know that with independent testing from outside the clubs, which now is mandated by the NFL, they can’t skirt the rules. And if the rules and testing are clear, there is no need to hide anything.

This is a subtle, complex issue that will play into the way the next CBA is written up, no question — and it should.

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