The NFL and the NFLPA released a joint statement today regarding the concussion protocol and its application to hits sustained by both Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Good news: everything worked fine, but they're making changes anyway.
You'll recall that Cam Newton got absolutely hammered in the season opener against the Denver Broncos last month, taking at least four shots to the head through the course of the game. After this one below, Newton was writhing on the ground and took several seconds to gather himself before being helped to his feet. The independent certified athletic trainers serving as spotters in the booth, the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant (UNC), and Panthers medical personnel reviewed the situation and determined he could stay in for the final 34 seconds of a game where Carolina was trailing 21-20.
Speaking to the media after the game, Newton admitted he could not remember the questions the doctors asked him just minutes before. The NFL and the NFLPA announced they would be launching investigations into the process, and that brings us to today and management and labor releasing a joint statement.
First, the statement says that both the Panthers doctors and the unaffiliated doctors did not see the "point of contact" when it happened. OK. It then says that both groups decided to review the replay video of the play they did not see, presumably because it was obvious (?) that Newton sustained some kind of serious injury, what with him rolling around on the ground grabbing his facemask. At this point, according to the jointly issued statement, the doctors fell victim to the dreaded "technology glitch" and it took a long time for them to actually get the video. Alright. But to get the video in the first place, the team doctor and the UNC had to contact the booth spotters. At that point, under the concussion protocol, the spotters—who are authorized to call medical timeouts if they see a player who "displays obvious signs of disorientation" and "if it becomes apparent that the player is attempting to remain in the game and not be attended to by the club's medical or athletic training staff"—are cut out of the process. They can no longer stop the game. Their "responsibilities end," as the joint NFL-NFLPA statement says. Sure.
With no more booth spotters in the process, and given 1) the play they apparently did not witness in real time and 2) the replay review (above), here's what NFL-NFLPA statement had to say about the doctors involved (emphasis mine): "After reviewing the replay and observing Mr. Newton from the sideline, the Panthers medical staff and the UNC agreed that no further evaluation of Mr. Newton was necessary as they did not observe signs or symptoms of concussion."
The NFL already sets the bar pretty high for stopping the game, with the aforementioned two criteria—I guess player safety is a bridge too far for game flow—and on top of that decided to place limits on when the spotters can say, "Hey, wait a minute, that guy doesn't look too good." In what world does that make sense if you care about not having players sustain more brain injuries on the field? But that's how it all played out, and both the league and the union now say that's how it should have played out.
Even though the system worked the way it was supposed to, however, they are going to tweak it. Most notably, they are going to make sure that booth spotters remain in contact with the club medical team until the medical team "confirms that a concussion evaluation has occurred."
I would like to highlight, one last time, this passage from the statement Cam Newton's own union signed off on:
"After reviewing the replay and observing Mr. Newton from the sideline, the Panthers medical staff and the UNC agreed that no further evaluation of Mr. Newton was necessary as they did not observe signs or symptoms of concussion."
Maybe in the next statement these two bullshit factories can let us know how getting drilled in the head with an opponent's helmet, rolling around on the ground, and needing to be helped back to your feet are so clearly not observable signs and symptoms of a concussion that an evaluation isn't even necessary.