The clown show that is the NFL's concussion program, why players aren't robots and how Vontaze Burfict's short fuse is derailing the Bengals. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.
1. Concussion? What Concussion? Nothing to See Here
There is only one conclusion any reasonable person can draw after watching the recent and embarrassing trifecta of buffoonery that took the place of what was supposed to be the monitoring of head trauma for three players affected over the past two weeks.
The NFL's concussion protocols are trash.
Don't just take it from me.
"NFL concussion protocol is a fraud," tweeted expert Dr. Chris Nowinski, a key figure in the head trauma landscape. He's co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to solving the sports concussion crisis. He is also a co-founder of the BU CTE Center. Nowinski serves on the NFL Players Association Mackey-White Traumatic Brain Injury Research Committee and the Ivy League Concussion Review Committee, among others. He earned his Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience at Boston University School of Medicine.
In other words, when Nowinski speaks, everyone should listen.
After this past weekend, it appears increasingly clear the NFL's concussion monitoring system is little more than a publicity scam. There's no other way to see it in the wake of three incidents that comprised what may have been the most devastating day in this era of head trauma awareness:
Indianapolis. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett was blasted in the head and visibly wobbly. It was one of the nastier head shots of the season. Tweeted Nowinski:
Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. @ChrisNowinski1
#NFL #concussion protocol is a fraud. QB Jacoby Brissett goes back in after showing the clearest concussions signs of the season. Helmet-to-helmet hit, holds head, then goes limp, then needs help up. You don't need a protocol to hold this player out for the game. Check the tape: https://t.co/db8sDwVmVl
In a statement, the Colts said that all of the proper protocols were followed with a team doctor and an independent neurologist clearing Brissett. The problem was, Brissett didn't miss a single play.
Nowinski wasn't impressed:
Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. @ChrisNowinski1
Mishandling of Jacoby Brissett's obvious #concussion is a reminder that the "protocol" is based on an unethical #NFL philosophy: Keeping a healthy player out is far worse than putting a brain-injured player in. Rewrite & retrain staffs before someone dies https://t.co/8RzKZshE6F
Atlanta. Running back Devonta Freeman was concussed and pulled from the game after taking a hit from Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens. This was after Freeman was checked for a concussion, cleared and allowed to go back in the game in Week 9 against Carolina. After the game against the Cowboys, though, Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis tweeted that Freeman was actually concussed the week prior and should have been removed from the game.
Seattle. Russell Wilson was hit square in the jaw. The game official requested Wilson be removed and examined. Wilson went into the medical tent, stayed for a few seconds and returned to the game, making it pretty unlikely he was checked for a concussion. League sources tell me the Seahawks face a fine and possible loss of draft picks for the mishandling of Wilson's case.
There was another, as well. Not as blatant but definitely questionable. The Associated Press' account of what happened to Washington receiver Ryan Grant is staggering. His head was slammed into the turf. The team announced he was being checked for a concussion. Less than 10 minutes later, he was cleared. Fewer than five minutes after that, there was more evaluation. Then he was eventually pulled from the game.
That's three blown calls and one questionable one in just one weekend.
These are the types of incidents that don't just endanger the players but can negatively impact the future of the sport, as Nowinski explains in Item No. 2 below.
What the league says its concussion policies are, and what teams actually do, often are two distinct things, and I'd rather not contribute to that propaganda.
Yes, the league will offer the prerequisite verbiage about how it cares about the health and safety of its players. Its protocols work. Blah, blah, blah.
Yet if there's one thing we saw explicitly this weekend, it's that the league's head trauma directives need a massive overhaul.
Careers, and lives, are at stake.
2. If the NFL Can't Get It Right, Who Can?
Nowinski understands the bigger context of the concussion issue. That it's not about one player, but about the future of the sport, as he explained to me:
"The concussion and CTE issue will determine if American football survives past the next decade," Nowinski wrote to me. "Somehow the NFL is still only paying lip service to the issue. If the NFL, with all the resources in the world, blows three concussion evaluations in one weekend, what chance do children have to play football safely?
"If the NFL continues to refuse to fund legitimate CTE research, and former players continue to die horrible deaths, what rational person would want their child to have success in football and follow in their footsteps? The NFL's half-hearted approach to concussions and CTE could kill football at every level."
3. A Small Step Could Make a Big Difference in Concussion Saga
One thing a former NFL team doctor told me would help solve the head trauma crisis is more transparency.
In the same way the NFL makes a game official available to a pool reporter to explain a controversial call, the league could make the team doctor or the independent neurologist available to the media to answer why they handled a concussed player the way they did.
The lack of transparency leads to conspiracy theories and distrust. That's why game officials give detailed explanations, and why the NFL needs to do the same when it comes to head injuries.
4. The Sobering Reality About Football
While the league's concussion protocols are a pile of goo, there is one hard truth everyone has to digest.
It's that even if the NFL followed all of its rules, the core part of the danger remains. A football game is filled with collisions, many of them not all that violent. Sometimes it's just an offensive lineman blocking a defensive lineman. The brain rattles around in the skull. It stretches the brain. The damage causes scarring. That's CTE.
If the NFL followed its rules, the damage could be slowed. But it cannot be stopped. There's no helmet or technology than can stop CTE. This is yet another dilemma the NFL faces. Maybe the greatest of all.
5. Players Aren't Robots
You may have seen the video of Teddy Bridgewater becoming emotional after his return to the Vikings' active roster following a devastating knee injury last year. We don't get to see this side of players, partly because the helmets hide their faces and partly because the culture of the sport doesn't want them to be emotional. But trust me, those emotions are always there. And it's refreshing to sometimes see what the game means to its players.
6. A Streak Like No Other
Devonta Freeman's concussion could bring an end to a startlingly short streak he was putting together. As Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com noted:
What a wild stat if you really think about it.
7. The Burfict Crime
The most interesting part of the Vontaze Burfict video (h/t CBSSports.com) that shows him making contact with a game official last week isn't the act of him committing that penalty. It's what led to the contact, and it shows why Burfict is a liability for the Bengals.
Watch Titans lineman Jack Conklin. All he does is give Burfict a tiny shove. No big deal. Happens all the time. Burfict, though, acts as if Conklin punched him in the face.
Players have told me they are coached to purposely antagonize Burfict and get him to react. This isn't to say Conklin did. But it's clear Burfict is easy to antagonize and a risk to sabotage any momentum the Bengals may generate.
8. There's Only One Cam, So Let's Enjoy Him While We Can
Interesting note from NFL Senior Director of Football Communications Randall Liu putting Cam Newton's performance against the Dolphins in perspective:
I don't know how long Newton can keep snapping off plays like his 69-yard scamper against the Dolphins, but it's damn impressive to watch.
9. It's Jon Gruden Rumor Season…Again
I'm hearing from people inside the league that they are hearing Jon Gruden's name mentioned for jobs in Tennessee (the Vols, not the Titans), Tampa, New York (the Giants) and Cleveland. The Monday Night Football analyst appears to be a candidate everywhere except the captain's chair of the Defiant.
Still, it remains likely that Gruden remains in the TV booth. Every year he's mentioned in coaching rumors and every year he stays put. Why would this year be any different?
10. The NBA Continues to Lead
Chalk another one up for the NBA in how it's handling the player protest issue as compared to what has happened in the NFL.
This isn't about whether you agree with player protests. That's a discussion for another day. What this is about is how NBA coaches are willing to walk into this political minefield, and their NFL counterparts are not.
In the NBA, Gregg Popovich of the Spurs and Steve Kerr of the Warriors have been extremely vocal. Now add Detroit's Stan Van Gundy, whose words in Time magazine this week are extremely powerful.
"I do not claim to be an expert on race in America," he wrote. "But in addition to working to be an informed citizen and learning about the issues that derive from race, I have been coaching for about 20 years in the NBA, a league that is 75 percent black. I have been in a unique position to hear from players and staff members about the issues they and their families have had to encounter. In a time where bigotry seems on the rise and commitment to racial equality on the decline, I have an obligation as a citizen to speak out and to support, in any way possible, those brave and patriotic athletes who are working to bring change to our country. I believe all of us do."
I may be forgetting an NFL coach, but I can't think of one who has voiced a similar call of support. It's a fascinating thing to watch.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.