Pittsburgh Steelers: Are the Steelers Breaking the Concussion Rules?

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Are the Steelers Breaking the Concussion Rules?
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There is no doubt that concussions are a serious issue that the NFL faces on a daily basis. It is so serious that in the last CBA, it was stipulated that teams could not practice as much during the regular season or off season in pads, to cut down on these issues.

There have also been rules added to the NFL over the last couple years, such as the "defenseless receiver" rule, and the no touching a quarterbacks head (if his name is Manning or Brady) rule.

It is understandable that the NFL wants to protect the men that make up the game we want to watch every Sunday. Well, in most cases.

This article is no meant to bash the referees for not calling a penalty on one play, but will call the exact same penalty later in the game. That is for another article at another time.

This article is about the Pittsburgh Steelers, and their alleged "bending" of the concussion policy in the NFL.

This year, the NFL stated that if a player suffers a concussion, he is to immediately be taken out of the game and not permitted to return until cleared by an independent neurologist. That means, if a player suffers a concussion, his game is over.

Three times so far in 2011, the Steelers have been faced with this issue—once with Hines Ward (Ravens in Pittsburgh), and twice with Troy Polamalu (Jacksonville and KC). In each one of these cases, the Steelers have removed the player from the game, taken his helmet from him and not permitted him to return to the game.

In all three of these instances, the Steelers have removed the player from the game.

OK, so what exactly is a concussion?

WebMD.com says "the most common and least serious type of traumatic brain injury is called a concussion. The word comes from the Latin concutere, which means 'to shake violently.'"

There are various signs of a concussion—one is short-term memory loss. In some cases, you don't remember your name. You become very dizzy, unable to stand up straight, slurred speech, ringing in ears, nausea and other signs.

If any player takes a hit to his head, and shows any of these, the team is to remove the player from the game, for the remainder of the game. If the player is diagnosed with a concussion, he is not to return to game or practice until he is medically cleared by an independent neurologist.

There are also three different degrees of concussions, according to WebMD:

In a grade 1 concussion, symptoms last for less than 15 minutes. There is no loss of consciousness.

With a grade 2 concussion, there is no loss of consciousness but symptoms last longer than 15 minutes.

In a grade 3 concussion, the person loses consciousness, sometimes just for a few seconds.

None of us know in those injuries what degree the concussions were for Ward or Polamalu, or if they even had concussions. And this is where the problem lies for the Steelers.

Because the Steelers are referring to the injuries as "concussion-like symptoms," there are news outlets that are accusing the Steelers of breaking the rules required for concussions. One of those sites, which coincidentally is one of my favorite sites, seems to be attacking them the most.

ProFootballTalk.com, which I have been a fan of since 2004, has written four articles about the Steelers and their "concussion like symptoms" in the last week, like this one.

Now, if there was an honest concern for Troy Polamalu and his personal well being, that wound be one thing. But the OBVIOUS double standard has gotten a little bit ridiculous. In another article, PFT praised the New York Jets for their "transparency" with the obvious concussion suffered by tight end Dustin Keller.

The difference between the Steelers and the Jets?  The Steelers did not allow their players to return to the game. The Jets did. 

So, what is the policy regarding concussions in the NFL? Basically the rules say, if a team suspects that a player has a concussion, he is to immediately be removed from the game. He will then take a "baseline" test on the sideline which requires him to answer various questions he answered prior to the start of the season.

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If the team doctor believes that the player has a concussion, he is to be removed from the sideline, and must go to the locker room. If this happens, then the player is not permitted to return to action, practice or game, until cleared by an independent neurologist.

One of the issues different sites complain about is that by the Steelers saying the player is suffering concussion like symptoms, it avoids them from having to have the player diagnosed by an independent neurologist, because they were never diagnosed as actually having a concussion.

This simply isn't true.

In one of those PFT articles, the NFL was asked the difference between a concussion and concussion like symptoms. And according to the NFL, there isn't one.

“Concussion-like symptoms describe just that—symptoms—that may lead to a diagnosis of a specific injury—concussion,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “For purposes of our rules, a player with concussion-like symptoms should be treated as if he has suffered a concussion unless a concussion is specifically ruled out.”

If a person with "concussion like symptoms" is treated the same as a person that has been diagnosed as having a concussion, then Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu (both times) would have had to go through the same procedures, including being cleared by an independent neurologist. In all three cases, that is exactly what happened.

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