Take concussion tests off sidelines

Posted Dec. 13, 2011 @ 12:48 p.m.
Posted By Ron Borges

If the Browns' medical staff could take one look at glassy-eyed Colt McCoy in the minutes after James Harrison all but decapitated him in Week 14 and not conclude he was impaired they must have gotten their medical degrees at Wal-Mart.

The decision to allow McCoy to return to the game two plays after a hit that left him unable to recall what transpired thereafter is prima facie evidence that the NFL's return to play policy is as impaired as McCoy was. At the best, it doesn't work. At the worst, it's ignored or avoided.

The Browns claimed immediately after the game that they had followed NFL policy and that McCoy had not exhibited any signs of impairment and would have been removed if he had. Yet within three days it came to light that their medical staff allegedly had not even administered the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool, a set of five questions designed to see if a concussed player knows what day it is, time it is and year it is. This violated no NFL rule because, while the league's medical advisors came up with the test, it is not required teams use it. It is merely "suggested.''

After the game head coach Pat Shurmur insisted he was confident the Browns did the right thing by McCoy. The Chargers insisted the same thing after OG Kris Dielman collapsed on a team plane after playing much of the game hours earlier deeply concussed and clearly staggering around the field as if he'd just been hit by a Mike Tyson combination.

If those teams followed what passes for league protocol and those are the results, then it should be clear those protocols need to change. One can say all they want that the players must accept some responsibility in these situations because A) they are all volunteers and B) they lie in such situations, but whatever the truth of that so what? It is hardly logical to suggest a concussed person be the one responsible making clear he's concussed.

Shurmer said following the incident that McCoy never mentioned anything about a loss of memory to him before going back into the game. Of course he didn't. He couldn't remember what he forgot.

Clearly the sideline is no place for these kinds of assessments. Clearly team medical staffs don't need guidelines and suggestions, they need strict requirements that are universal from one end of the league to the other. Clearest of all, if the NFL is serious about player safety (and their insistence on an 18-game schedule indicates they are not), it needs independent neurologists making the back-to-play determination without input or interference from a player's team.

The latter is really the only way to avoid the kind of situation that occurred with McCoy. Not long after the game the media was asked to turn off all TV lights before McCoy was interviewed. Why? Because sensitivity to light is a significant problem for a concussed player.

McCoy's father, a football coach himself, claimed his son told him after the game that he had no recollection of what happened. He also claimed his son was nauseous, another sign of concussion impairment, and "didn't know who he was. He was basically out after the hit. You could tell by the rigidity of his body as he was laying there.''

Brad McCoy didn't go to medical school, but he has been to Wal-Mart. He also knows a guy knocked stiff when he sees one. So should the medical staff of any professional football team, but the Browns did not. Neither did the Chargers. Last year the Eagles did not in the case of Kevin Kolb, even when he was crawling on his hands and knees. There is no end to other teams that made the same mistake.

How many more teams have to not see what's staring back at them before the league itself sees the truth — the sideline is no place for assessments of concussion damage and a team's medical staff is not the one that should be making it.