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National Football League
Draft King Analysis

December 14, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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Doctors and medical investigators have made some remarkable discoveries over the past few years related to concussions. Unfortunately, in the world of big-time football, the way that teams, coaches, and even players have approached concussion issues is shameful.

Last Thursday night, in front of a national television audience, Steelers OLB James Harrison struck Browns QB Colt McCoy with a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit. Harrison was penalized and has been subsequently suspended by the NFL for one game for his actions. While Harrison has appealed the suspension, the move by the league fits the NFL's approach toward protecting quarterbacks and playing deemed to be in defenseless positions, such as a wide receiver going over the middle.

It appeared that McCoy had potentially suffered a concussion on the play. He missed two plays while Browns team officials checked on him on the sidelines. But Cleveland's medical staff didn't administer any tests to see if McCoy might have suffered a concussion, and he was put back into the game.

By putting a potentially concussed McCoy back into the game, the Browns put their starting quarterback at major risk for severe health problems. Multiple concussions, particularly those sustained relatively close to one another, leads to all sorts of long-term problems. This goes well beyond a given season or even a career -- this is something can impact a player's life.

The Browns said today that McCoy didn't display any visible concussion symptoms on the sidelines and that the medical and training staff "didn't see" Harrison's vicious hit on McCoy. Really? Your starting quarterback takes a hit that prompted the NFL to suspend the defender responsible, yet no one on your staff sees it happen or even picks up on the fact that he took a hard hit? Really?!? That seems hard to fathom.

I've written at length about how chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE, presents a major threat for those who suffer from multiple concussions. At this point, CTE can only be determined postmortem, with the presence of tau proteins in the brain revealing the presence of CTE. But the impact of CTE is very real, and particularly in sports like football where toughness is especially valued, concussions must be treated as a major health threat.

As an aside, the change in the gameday roster for 2011 (negotiated in the new CBA) added an extra spot for an active player but removed the "emergency QB" spot that provided teams with a third QB option. This creates problems, such as what happened in the Saints/Titans game this past Sunday where injured Titans starting Matt Hasselbeck had to come in after the team's backup QB, Jake Locker, suffered a rib injury. Fortunately for the Titans, Locker was able to return after one play, but it revealed a major problem that the NFL has related to player safety, particularly at the position (quarterback) that the league seems to try to protect the most.

It's not just in the NFL where concussion problems exist, and in many cases concussions or sub-concussions add up in a player's younger years that add up to long-term medical issues later. Perhaps the most disturbing example of a concussed player in college football being allowed to continue to play this year came in the Texas Tech/Baylor game to 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin, III, Baylor's quarterback. Griffin was knocked unconscious on a play where he had given himself up and begun to slide.

Griffin was taken to the sidelines, and then, inexplicably, was allowed back into the game. He ran in a touchdown on the drive, putting himself in major danger for severe brain injury. Fortunately, during halftime, someone within the Baylor organization realized that Griffin may have suffered a concussion, and he was kept out for the rest of the game.

The risk for Griffin was two-fold: not only did he risk putting himself in long-term danger by returning to the game, but he also risked suffering an injury that could have hurt his NFL draft status. Considering that Griffin projects as a likely top ten pick if he decides to jump to the NFL in 2012, the financial ramifications could have been severe for him, not to mention the associated health risks he might have faced.


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