Tackling the Concussion Policy



Andrew Vojt

Playing football has become more dangerous than ever. As players are getting more athletic and the game has developed over time, the risk for injury is at a high point. Studies are pointing out the detrimental physical effects on football players. Most notably, concussions can instill serious brain trauma and inhibit the lives of many retired football players. Long careers of constant hits to the head can lead to brain diseases, such as dementia or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the disease that led to former NFL linebacker Junior Seau’s

suicide last May.

The NFL is slowly investing more money in research and is actively changing the game to protect the lives of its players. Last week, the NFL Players Association funded a 10-year, $100 million dollar research project at Harvard Medical School that will seek to reduce the severity of in-game injuries and enhance the long-term health of its athletes. The project will also give coaches and doctors better tools to evaluate in-game injuries. Dean for Clinical and Translational Research at Harvard Medical School Lee Nadler is the director for this new project. 

“We need a simple, accurate way on the sidelines to say, ‘no, it’s not safe.’ We’d like to make it medicine, not judgment,” Nadler said to the Wall Street Journal. 

Many NFL officials have called for a change after Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was kept in a playoff game he injured his knee. Griffin later re-injured the knee, partially tearing his ACL and MCL, which

required surgery to fix. 

In the college game, there have been many instances in which coaches have failed to make the right decision on assessing player injuries. The 2012 season should be a key example. During a game between Arizona and USC, there was an error in evaluating an injury. In the fourth quarter, Arizona quarterback Matt Scott put the team on his back, leading to two first downs at the start of the drive. However, during a run by Scott, USC safety T.J. McDonald kneed Scott in the head. When the cameras panned off Scott and took a break, Scott vomited profusely on the field, which is a sign of a concussion. After vomiting repeatedly, Scott was a in desperate need of a trip to the emergency room. The Mayo Clinic recommends that athletes shouldn’t return to activity when signs of a concussion are present. However, in this case, Scott was only taken out of the game until after he put his

team up by 11.  

College football coaches often have been negligent this year concerning injuries. USC star receiver Robert Woods missed one play after he dizzily stumbled and fell onto the field after a helmet-to-helmet hit. Woods claimed that he remembered most of the incident. 

“I remember trying to run … but I couldn’t see. And then I fell,” he said. 

USC’s medical staff then gave Woods a concussion test that consisted of questions including “who is the current president, what is today’s date and what is 100 minus seven, minus seven, minus seven.” After passing this test, Woods returned to the game.

“There’s no way you’re gonna have Robert sit on the bench, no matter what it is,” USC teammate Marquis Lee said.

It is evident that Woods’s health was in danger, but the rationale behind sending him back in the game is unclear. 

The problem with the NCAA is that there is no standardized method of addressing concussions during games. While there is a mandated procedure on players who have been diagnosed, nothing in the rulebook specifies what to do during those tricky in-game solutions. Because of this, team trainers and physicians might not always make the right call in sending a player back out on the field, which puts him at risk for a second concussion that could be permanently dangerous. Colleges employ their own methods of evaluation, but there have been cases in which testing has been fuzzy or schools have

downgraded severities of player injuries. 

Because the NCAA adopts this half-hearted measure to ensure the safety of its football players, it is not held accountable for injuries due to the uniqueness of each school’s procedure. This is definitely a legal move, but it leaves them vulnerable to lawsuits. For example, the Chicago Tribune reported that along with four ex-college athletes, former Eastern Illinois football star Adrian Arrington is suing the NCAA for the long-term damages suffered from playing college football. According to Arrington, he suffered five concussions on the field, but the team doctor cleared him several times and allowed him to return to play the day after his injury. He now suffers from depression, memory loss, seizures and is unable to sufficiently work. Like Arrington, there are several college football players that can have these symptoms just from playing a few games. Without protecting the players, the NCAA is at risk of losing money and credibility.

However, credibility should be the least of the NCAA’s worries. The NCAA, like the NFL, needs to protect its players. Many of these athletes are not continuing their career past the college level, and the impact of their injuries could affect their ability to succeed at a job in the real world. Just because they are not being paid six-figure contracts and earning schools money does not mean they need to be at risk for leading an unhealthy life. Coaches, trainers and doctors need to be held accountable, and a standardized in-game evaluation procedure would do that. Carelessness could possibly be eliminated, and telling symptoms would not be overlooked. Football is becoming dangerous, considering even President Obama recently criticized the sport in an interview with The New Republic. A thorough evaluation system has the potential to

make a real difference in the lives of players.