Concussions in the NFL

Did the NFL violate its concussion protocol by allowing Cam Newton to return to the game?

The Carolina Panthers squared off with the New Orleans Saints in a playoff game on Sunday, January 7.  As millions of fans watched, Cam Newton, the Panther’s quarterback, took a hard hit and fell to the ground, appearing dazed.  He walked slowly off the field, faltering back to the ground at one point.  Despite a seeming head injury, Newton was rather quickly returned to the game.  This questionable action came just two weeks after the NFL mandated more extensive concussion tests for players with symptoms.

The NFL Concussion Protocol

In recent years, the NFL has come under fire for the number of current and former NFL players suffering from traumatic brain injuries.  Researchers have discovered that repeated head injuries, like those commonly suffered by football players, can lead to a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE.  CTE causes symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease and can prove devastating for retired NFL players and their families.

As awareness as to the potential for concussions has increased, the NFL has taken additional steps to protect players.  In 2009, the League issued its first concussion protocol and it has been revised several times since.  The following actions must be taken by NFL teams per the concussion protocol:

  • Any player with a potential concussion must be immediately removed from the game;
  • The NFL team physician and an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant will then review the play and perform a neurological exam;
  • If there is suspicion of a concussion, the player will be moved to the locker room for a full assessment;
  • Players that pass the assessment can be returned to the game but will be monitored, while those diagnosed with a concussion will not be permitted to return to gameplay.

Observable concussion symptoms include loss of consciousness, a blank look, and motor problems.  Critics of the NFL’s actions with Cam Newton point out that he displayed motor issues when he stumbled walking to the side and seemed to have a disoriented look post-hit.  The NFL is continuing to investigate this instance.  Meanwhile, litigation against the NFL continues as more current and former players are being diagnosed with long term head injuries.

Posted in: Brain Injuries