NFL's Changes in Post-Concussion Treatment a "Headache" for Players

Bryan Hollister@too_old_4stupidAnalyst INovember 30, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 22:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers watches a replay during NFL action against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on November 22, 2009 in Kansas City, Missouri.  The Chiefs defeated the Steelers 27-24.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

In Tennessee, Arizona Cardinals' backup quarterback Matt Leinart faced off against a Tennessee Titans squad led by his college nemesis Vince Young, and lost.

In Baltimore, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Dennis Dixon, who had previously completed a grand total of one pass in the NFL, met "Joe Cool" Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens in primetime and lost.

Why is this an issue worthy of writing about, you ask?

Both Leinart and Dixon found out they were starting after Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger found out Saturday that they were scratched due to post-concussion symptoms that prevented them from playing.

Warner woke up Saturday morning with dizziness and fuzzy vision, and Roethlisberger was complaining about headaches. Once the coaching staffs of each team found out, it was over. Warner didn't even dress; Big Ben was relegated to third-string emergency status.

Enter Leinart and Dixon, neither of which had any idea they would be starters, and therefore had no preparation for the games they were about to play in.

Now, don't get me wrong: I am neither advocating that either starter should have been in the game, nor am I stating beyond a shadow of a doubt that the games would have ended any differently if they had. I am also not implying that Leinart or Dixon would have fared any better had they been given opportunity to get more reps in practice.

They are backups for a reason, after all.

What I am saying is this: the NFL's increased—might I add long overdue—attention towards and impending changes to their treatment of players exhibiting post-concussion symptoms is something that teams are going to have to prepare better for.

There is nothing that can substitute for the speed and stress of a game, but getting time with the first team in practice is crucial to the game plan. In Dixon's case, for example, Pittsburgh could have thrown in a few more wrinkles that would allow him to utilize his skill set better.

It also would have given him more opportunity to get his reads down, and he might not have thrown a pick to a big, slow, lumbering defensive end who dropped off in zone coverage in overtime.

In Leinart's case, he could have used the week to get his timing down and might have been able to connect on more of his longer pass attempts.

But one thing is certain: the rest of the offense for both teams would have been prepared for the decision and any adjustments that needed to be made could have been handled in practice instead of the locker room just prior to the game. 

Concussions have long been a little-talked-about issue, the 500-pound gorilla in the living room that no one wanted to acknowledge. Players have played with their bells rung for years, and none of them thought twice about "shaking off the cobwebs" and getting back in the game.

But thanks to advances in technology, as well as a better understanding of the workings of the human brain, the issue isn't quite as taboo as it once was. Players are monitored closely following concussions, and if they can't pass the battery of post-concussion tests, they sit. Period.

The players don't like it too much, but it looks like they are going to have to live with it. The onus is now on the coaches to ensure that when a player suffers a concussion in a game, they know and understand that there are going to be changes in how it is handled. Backups are going to have to be ready to go and coaching staffs are going to have to make sure they get the preparation necessary.

In short, everyone is going to have to suck it up and live with the changes.

Ironically, that's just what the new treatment of concussions will allow them to do down the road.

Live with it.