The test of one’s priorities comes not in the easy moments, but the hard ones. So it is with the NFL and its emphasis on concussion recognition and diagnosis, to show that efforts are being made for current (and future) players.
Last night, Cam Newton took a beating. Even before the final drive, he had taken a borderline hit from Derek Wolfe in the first quarter on a rollout, and took a legal hit up under the chin that left him making this expression in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, he took an uncalled helmet-to-helmet hit from Brandon Marshall after throwing a pass, and I am going to guess Marshall gets some kind of punishment since he left his feet and launched into Newton’s helmet with his crown.
And then on the final drive, he already had gone helmet-to-helmet on a sweep. (A legal play under the runner rules, but a helmet hit to the head nonetheless). Then, Darian Stewart launched into him, sending him “writhing in pain,” as Al Michaels put it.
In that key moment, with viewers everywhere watching, with the NFL MVP down, those responsible to determine if the actions merited at least a look at whether he had a concussion apparently decided “Nope, he doesn’t have one” by watching that same footage on TV.
And in some respects, you understand the pressures and why that is in the Not-For-Long League. Winning isn’t Everything, it’s the Only Thing. Our Editor-in-Chief Jason McIntyre is right when he says the outcry would have been way more severe had Newton been removed at that moment. He wasn’t guaranteed to be diagnosed, even if it appeared appropriate to at least test. Removing a quarterback as a precaution, with the clock ticking? That would be a bigger affront to society than participation trophies.
Cam Newton himself, earlier this offseason, said ratings over head injuries. There is no doubt that in the short-term, the backlash would have been far more severe by removing a NFL MVP from a major game with a minute left. We’ve seen plenty of cases where players were removed under the concussion protocol. We’ve also now seen some prominent end-of-game situations where the rules are a little different.
Two years ago in the Super Bowl, Julian Edelman appeared to take a helmet hit, and there was even a request to check him. He never came out as the Patriots rallied to win the title. Last year, Case Keenum–hardly an established name, but a quarterback–appeared to be concussed but remained in the game and turned the ball over in the final minute.
Concussions, unlike knees, are just as serious–arguably moreso since you need that brain–but not overtly seen. It’s clear when someone can’t play anymore due to a knee injury. Players don’t want to come out when they can still go, even if they should not.
The choice, though, is to treat them like the real injuries that they are going forward. We know that second impacts can also have a severe effect, if a player continues to play with an undiagnosed concussion.
Fans, though, don’t care as much about other people’s (adult) kids as they do their own. And therein lies the future conflict. The NFL needs to continue to appeal to fans to keep harvesting those big TV contracts. The NFL also needs to appeal to the future generations of players, and parents of those players at all levels, to convince them that they care. That debt, though, will be paid in the future.
For now, Winning is winning, when the clock is ticking and the game is on the line.