Ugly Handling of Savage Hit Proves NFL Concussion Policy Still Complete Disaster

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystDecember 11, 2017

Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage (3) is checked by a referee after he was hit during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, in Houston. Savage left the game. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

The NFL doesn't actually care about head injuries, and let's not pretend it does.

The league's 32 owners built a billion-dollar industry on highlight-reel hits and a game framed around the idea of being a violent ballet.

Instead, let's tell it like it is: The NFL's handling of head trauma is a disgrace, and Tom Savage's situation during the Houston Texans' 26-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers only exacerbates a problem that's never gone away despite how much the league seems to wish it would.

The lack of consistency throughout this season in regard to the handling of shots to a player's head has been laughable at best.

But let's start with what occurred in Houston.

Elvis Dumervil laid Savage out after he released the football, as seen below courtesy of The Render NFL. Nothing was wrong with the hit itself. However, the quarterback's head snapped back and hit the turf. What occurred at that point is what will cause the NFL's policies to come under fire once again.

TheRenderNFL @TheRenderNFL

Tom Savage hits head on ground, appears to have seizure while ref looks on, comes back in the game 5 minutes later. https://t.co/gW9lYxDIwQ

Undeniably dazed, Savage went to the sideline only to be cleared by doctors. The quarterback's involuntary reaction to the hit speaks for itself. There's absolutely no reason he should have returned to the contest.

But he did, only to be pulled from the game a second time because concerns lingered about his safety, per the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson:

Aaron Wilson @AaronWilson_NFL

On Tom Savage concussion and NFL protocol: 1. Got hit. 2. Went under tent to be evaluated by independent neurologist. 3. Got cleared. 4. Went back in game briefly. 5. When he went to sideline, symptoms noticed by doctors. 6. Went to locker room, concussion determined, ruled out

Basically, the doctors allowed a concussed player to go back into a game. They failed in their duty to protect an individual's well-being.

Why was Savage even allowed back onto the field in the first place? Obviously, something went very wrong with the initial evaluation and the quarterback could have been placed in a precarious situation. Maybe the NFL should consider the high school rule where players shall not return to the contest if concussion-like symptoms are present and then must be cleared by a physician or certified athletic trainer at a later date.

So many things beyond the concern that Savage's health was jeopardized make this situation much worse.

First, the quarterback's own words came back to haunt him.

"I'm not coming off the field on my own," Savage said last week, per the Chronicle's Brian T. Smith. "That's just how I am now. I've been down that road and I'm not doing it."

According to the Chronicle's John McClain, the 27-year-old signal-caller tried to go back onto the field and had to be forced into the locker room.

Players want to be in the lineup. Someone like Savage, who already lost his starting spot earlier this season, is bound and determined not to let it happen again even it means putting their own bodies in harm's way. Steps are supposed to be in place to prevent this from happening. They weren't.

This disaster makes the league's concussion policy look like an outright joke.

Savage's situation harkens back to when former Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy suffered a concussion against the Pittsburgh Steelers only to return to the game without being properly evaluated.

"I talked to Colt this morning and he said, 'Dad, I don't know what happened," McCoy's father, Brad, said after the incident that took place in December 2011, per the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot.

"He never should've gone back in the game. He was basically out (cold) after the hit. You could tell by the rigidity of his body as he was laying there. There were a lot of easy symptoms that should've told them he had a concussion. He was nauseated and he didn't know who he was. From what I could see, they didn't test him for a concussion on the sidelines. They looked at his (left) hand."

Savage's body didn't go rigid, but he appeared to be convulsing after snapping his head off the turf.

"There are league-wide problems in procedure, and that's what needs to be addressed," former Cleveland Browns linebacker and player representative Scott Fujita said after the McCoy incident, per Tony Grossi, then a beat writer for the Plain Dealer. "You can't point your finger at any one thing. It's the process."

Here we are six years later and the same issue is still being discussed. Quite frankly, the players' mentality hasn't really changed in regard to the seriousness of their situation.

A month ago, the Seattle Seahawks reportedly violated the NFL's concussion policy when they didn't even evaluate quarterback Russell Wilson after he was knocked out of a contest against the Arizona Cardinals, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The responsibility falls on the team and its medical personnel to make sure a player is properly evaluated. It didn't happen in the aforementioned situation, and the mentality to self-evaluate has been slow to materialize among highly competitive athletes.

An entirely different offense offered a peek into the player's current mentality. The NFL fined and suspended Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for a hit on Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict in Week 13. Steelers safety Mike Mitchell decided to rant about the NFL's inconsistency during the judiciary process.

"If you want to see flag football, then let's take our pads off," Mitchell said, per Business Insider's Tyler Lauletta. "That would make it easier for me, because now I don't have to wear heavy s--t. Give us flags for me to pull off so that way I know what we are playing," Mitchell said.

"I signed up to play full-speed, contact football, and we're not doing that. I feel like I've got to ask a guy, 'Hey, are you ready for me to hit you right now before I hit you?' That's crazy. I'm going to mess around and get hurt trying to protect an offensive player because he's running an over route. Dammit, your quarterback shouldn't have thrown the ball messed up."

Mitchell's words provide insight into two areas. The players want to play a physical game, and they're willing to put their bodies on the line to provide for their families. Although, this is a shortsighted perspective, as former NFL player Osi Umenyiora noted:

Second, there should be massive concerns over the NFL's inconsistency in not only dealing with head injuries but how they come to be.

Three instances occurred this season that involved devastating hits to the head and resulted in the evaluation of players for possible concussions, yet each produced different disciplinary actions.

On Sept. 28, during a Thursday night affair, Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan speared Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams by leading with the crown of his helmet. Adams needed to be taken to a local hospital after the hit. The NFL levied a two-game suspension for the play, yet reduced the punishment to a single contest.

Less than a month later, Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso leveled Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco as Flacco was sliding to the turf in a defenseless position. Flacco suffered a concussion, yet Alonso didn't receive a personal foul or suspension.

Last week, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski lost his damn mind when he decided to unleash a pro wrestling move on Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White, who in turn suffered a concussion. In this instance, the NFL had no choice but to suspend the All-Pro tight end for one game.

All three of those examples ended with the same outcome: head trauma to the recipients of those hits. Yet punishment for all three differed or was even nonexistent.

The NFL doesn't have a clue how to legislate its own league, and the players should be aggravated at the disparity.

Furthermore, the NFL is a cash cow, and the players are nothing more than commodities. The Texans once again showed how poorly the league treats its performers.

According to Schefter, C.J. Fiedorowicz's career hangs in the balance after he suffered his fourth concussion in the last two years. The Texans front office placed the tight end on injured reserve five days ago. Here's how NFL business really works: Fiedorowicz could lose millions of dollars if forced to retire at just 26 years of age.

Houston Texans tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz
Houston Texans tight end C.J. FiedorowiczJae C. Hong/Associated Press

"When the Texans awarded him a three-year, $21.5 million contract extension last summer that included $10 million guaranteed, they included a de-escalator that would bring down his base salary by $2.8 million if he was to be cut as a result of a pre-existing condition such as a concussion," Schefter reported.


An individual places his body and brain on the line, and his team makes sure it includes a clause to recoup money based on something that occurred while playing the game.

Everyone knows what really matters.

It's a business. Never think of the NFL as anything more. The players are great athletes placing their bodies in the line of fire, yet their non-guaranteed contracts make sure they don't get all of the money owed if their bodies betray them.

"There's been no discussion with him yet," head coach Bill O'Brien said of Fiedorowicz on Wednesday, per Smith. "I think in these situations you have to let the player kind of, first of all, get back to where he's feeling normal. He's taken some shots, obviouslyhe's had three in a fairly short period of time. So we'll wait to see really when he starts feeling better, we'll sit down and talk about him and talk about what he's thinking about things."

Football is a violent game where brutal hits occur. After years of denying any correlation between the game and head trauma, the league is now butchering how to handle its preventative measures—both proactive and reactive.

The game itself is played by athletes who are bigger and faster than ever. Physics tells us increased mass and velocity will create more force upon contact. Athletes who run 4.4-second 40-yard dashes aren't meant to crash into one another.

But they do dozens of times per game.

The viciousness is part of the allure. Rabid fans want to see quarterbacks driven into the ground by big hits. It's the NFL's responsibility to protect its players. The league's actions, however, don't show any remorse for an approach that is both inconsistent and incompetent.

How the NFL treats its players in regard to the growing concussion epidemic is downright vicious.


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.