In the days since the Wild Card playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens last Saturday, the Steelers’ organization has come under criticism for apparently failing to follow the NFL-mandated concussion protocol after QB Ben Roethlisberger and TE Heath Miller each suffered hard hits and left the field. Both Roethlisberger and Miller were permitted to return to the game just minutes after their injuries. Media, fans and former NFL players questioned the Steelers’ actions.
According to the NFL, the league‘s concussion protocol takes between eight and 12 minutes to complete. The Washington Post consulted a doctor who has worked in the NFL and who now serves as medical director for a Major League Baseball team. Noting that Roethlisberger and Miller missed only three and two plays, respectively, the unnamed doctor stated that isn’t enough time to determine whether either suffered a brain injury. However, a Steelers’ spokesperson, quoted in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, indicated that the team’s medical staff had evaluated Roethlisberger and Miller, neither exhibited concussion symptoms and therefore neither went through the concussion protocol.
By contrast, the Dallas Cowboys took a more cautious approach when LB Rolando McClain suffered a hard hit during the Cowboys’ playoff game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday. McClain left the game early in the second quarter and did not return. According to The Dallas Morning News, McClain is experiencing concussion-like symptoms and will have to pass concussion protocol tests before being allowed to play against the Green Bay Packers this weekend.
A recent study conducted by the Analysis Research and Planning Corporation determined that approximately 14 percent of all former players will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and another 14 percent will develop moderate dementia. In fact, the study contends that former players are twice as likely as the general population to suffer from early-onset Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s or dementia.
A protocol is only as effective as its adherence and enforcement. We urge NFL teams to put player safety first – and we urge NFL players to put their health first. The Analysis Research and Planning Corporation study and others, as well as research conducted by Boston University, NIH and other medical institutions reinforce the dangers – and the ramifications – of concussion and head trauma. Those of us who have seen the suffering, who have witnessed the decline, who have supported afflicted husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons know far too well that no game, no victory, no championship is worth risking one’s health…one’s future… one’s brain.
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