NFL's In-Game Concussion Policy Still Terribly Flawed

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NFL's In-Game Concussion Policy Still Terribly Flawed

You never know when a concussion occurs in the NFL while watching a game until one is officially announced, but there are still times when things just don’t look right. Three starting quarterbacks—Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles, Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers and Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears—left games on Sunday of Week 10 due to concussion symptoms.

Vick has been getting smoked all season behind the injury-riddled Eagles' offensive line, causing NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal to note that: “It’s remarkable it took this long for Vick to leave a game this season considering the punishment that he’s taken”.

Smith and Cutler, however, may each have taken a few too many hits after their respective concussions occurred—a dangerous development and another indictment of the NFL’s in-game concussion policy.

Smith was hit around the back of his neck in the first quarter of the 49ers’ tie with the St. Louis Rams. Afterward, the broadcasting analysts frequently commented on his demeanor as though something was wrong with the 49ers' QB.

He left the game several plays later after another big hit.

Cutler’s situation on Sunday Night Football against the Houston Texans seems to be similar. Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com wrote during the game:

The Bears will face heavy scrutiny for the timing of Cutler's departure. We don't know for sure yet, but the play he presumably suffered the concussion on came with two minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter on a helmet-to-helmet hit by the Texans' Tim Dobbins. Cutler had extra time to collect himself while officials reviewed the play, but he remained in the game for seven more plays over two possessions before halftime. NFL rules require any player identified with concussion symptoms to be examined and removed from the sideline while being evaluated. We'll withhold judgment until we know for sure when Cutler suffered the injury.

Fans should certainly wait to pass judgment until after the facts are gathered, but Seifert goes on to mention that Sunday night’s injury may have been Cutler’s sixth concussion. The consequences of such a quantity of trauma are, unfortunately, very likely not yet realized.

If the NFL’s primary goal with respect to its players is to keep them healthy in the long term—especially in the case of concussions—then removing them from games at the first sign of trouble is absolutely necessary.

Toughness is respected in the NFL, but it is not required in this situation.

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