NFL Updates Concussion Protocol

Review of early season hits prompts changes to dealing with possible head injuries

The NFL’s concussion protocol is getting a midseason update. On Wednesday the National Football League, along with the NFL Players Association, announced new guidelines for how teams and the league will address the possibility of a concussion during a game or practice.

This move came as the result of a study of two separate instances in games early in the 2016 season, both on nationally televised Thursday Night Football Games. On September 8, the season opener between the Panthers and Broncos, Cam Newton was routinely beaten up by Denver’s defense.

With 36 seconds to play the Carolina quarterback and reigning NFL MVP took a helmet-to-helmet hit, at least his second of the game, and appeared dazed but was allowed to continue playing. The Panthers were hammered for the decision to keep him in but on the first day of the fall owners meetings in Houston the league released its review, saying there was no violation of the concussion protocol.

“The Panthers medical staff and the Unaffiliated Neuro-trauma Consultant (UNC) were positioned together on the sidelines monitoring the game and were unable to see the point of contact and decided to review the play via the sideline video replay system,” the NFL said in an official statement. “The time it took to actually receive the video following this request was prolonged due to a technology glitch.  After reviewing the replay and observing Mr. Newton from the sideline, the Panthers' medical staff and the UNC agreed that no further evaluation of Mr. Newton was necessary as they did not observe signs or symptoms of concussion.”

A week later Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor was removed from a game against the Jets by referee Ed Hochuli, not by the Buffalo medical staff or the UNC. In the 3rd quarter Taylor was sacked by linebacker Darron Lee. After the play Hochuli determined Taylor looked “woozy” and sent him to the sidelines to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

“Mr. Taylor seemed to be unsteady on his feet,” said the NFL’s official statement. “Prior to any actions by the club physician, Booth ATC Spotter and/or UNC, referee Ed Hochuli directed Mr. Taylor to the sideline for the required sideline examination. The club medical team and UNC reviewed the video and conducted the required examination, cleared Mr. Taylor and returned him to the game.”

Neither Newton nor Taylor had in fact sustained a concussion in those games but the way the situations were handled, one where the player was allowed to keep going without going in to the Concussion Protocol and one where a referee sent a player in to the Concussion Protocol, has prompted the NFL to make immediate alterations to how possible concussions are treated.

The league praised Hochuli for what it called a “conservative and therefore appropriate application of the Concussion Protocol” and has taken the following steps to try and clarify its application:


•    Concussion Protocol to require the Booth ATC Spotter to remain in contact with the club medical team and provide video support until the medical team confirms that a concussion evaluation has occurred;

•    The NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee, together with the NFLPA Medical Director will conduct a conference call with all UNCs to review changes to the Concussion Protocol;

•    The NFL, in consultation with the NFLPA, will use Referee Ed Hochuli's actions in Buffalo as an example of the appropriate application of the Concussion Protocol and proactive officiating in this realm as part of its continuing training of game officials;

•    The NFL and NFLPA are reviewing the merits of supplementing the Booth ATC program with a Booth UNC program as part of their continuing evaluation of the Protocol to ensure the best possible care of our players.

The NFL also attempted to say they will be doing their best to address football’s growing concussion issue.

“Concussion diagnosis and management is often a difficult and complex exercise, compounded by hectic game conditions. Accurate diagnosis and management of concussion requires experienced physicians coordinating with others on the sideline and within the field of play, each acutely aware of his or her responsibilities and all committed to the strict application of the policies implemented in order to protect players.”

These new policies will be in effect starting with Week 7 NFL games.

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