Adam Schefter said it well on ESPN this morning “This is an abject failure,” in referring to this:
— The Concussion Blog (@concussionblog) November 22, 2015
As you may have already have seen and heard about this incident in the St. Louis and Baltimore game yesterday I will not go through all the mechanics of what happened and why this was so utterly ridiculous.
What I would like to focus on with this post is why this matters.
As evidenced by Twitter there are many fans – I would hazard more than who tweeted – who could care less about this. The overriding theme is that the players are professionals and this is no big deal because they are paid to play and they know the risks.
I tend to agree with this, but only at the professional level, they are adults and have as much info as possible. However, in the moment of injury and the few seconds following it the player must be protected from themselves and from further injury. This is why the vaunted and much promoted concussion and injury surveillance protocols are in place.
If there are not people in place to make the decisions that a player cannot make of sound mind, in that moment, then why even have it. Although this is one failure and there have been cases of players being removed due to the policies in place; this one incident goes to show nothing is perfect, even in the face of a most obvious situation.
At some point the players are going to have to put their foot down and demand that the medical personnel take care of them; playing time and winning the game be damned.
This failure on a spectacular level also has ramifications beyond the NFL and even the sport of football.
Allowing Keenum to play, not even missing a snap, sends the wrong message to other players of the sport or sports that are not at the professional level. Can you imagine if Keenum had orchestrated the game winning drive after that? As stated above I tend to have a differing view on injury and the pros but the message still gets trickled down.
I can guarantee that somewhere in some football game being played this week in high school some kid or parent will talk his/her way out of coming out of the game, using this example and situation as rationale. I have seen and heard it first hand as an athletic trainer on the sidelines in the past and this only aides in continuing this falsity. Adolescent concussions are much more complex and serious due to the maturing brain. Because of this Keenum continuing play only reinforced that the game situation was more important than the player’s safety.
Another reason this is important is that the NFL’s continual promotion of player safety and taking on the concussion issue rings hollow. After Colt McCoy was injured in 2011 the NFL went on to implement the eye-in-the sky because the medical staff said they did not see it happen. After years of this new “surveying” of the field a flaw was found in the Super Bowl last year when the Patriots had a player that showed overt signs of concussion but was not removed. This season they allowed the medical spotter to stop action and buzz down to have the player removed without any penalty to the team, regardless of the situation on the field (2 min warning and time outs). I do recall a game where this did occur – just not the specific teams or date – and it seems to be working as intended. But that did not happen yesterday it was as noted above a hot mess.
As Keenum went on to run the next play – and ironically over throw Wes Welker – this incident put the league in a tough spot regarding player safety and could open up the league as a “fraud” in some peoples eyes. It matters because there are people that use incidents like this to excuse themselves from watching the game, going forward. This is a reason for others to not care about the sport if they are not going to care about their players. Business is dependent on demand of the product and this can lead to people turning away.
Finally, with all the efforts into making this game “safe” for all ages to play what do you think a mom or dad might think after seeing this happen? What if that mom/dad have been on the fence about their son/daughter playing the sport? Do you really want to see your 6, 7, 8, 9 year old kid allowed to play after that?
This situation puts the league, not the sport, in a rough spot. Damage control and hand wringing will be taking up most of the morning in New York.
I can tell you that this would never happen on the fields I patrol for football. Not only because of my ability and confidence to pull players and recognize the injury but because the coaches I work with would never tolerate this. If I didn’t pull them they would and have.
I can also tell you that most every athletic trainer I know would not tolerate this either (I know of cases like Keenum happening in other HS as well as wrestling). But there are still places where the medical staff does not have the autonomy and authority to pull players for player safety.
Perhaps this incident will matter because there will be more emphasis put on the authority and impunity to pull a player regardless of the game situation.
I will be looking forward to what the NFL has to say today or tomorrow, but this Keenum case matters to more than just him, the Rams or the League.
The real issue of concussion is not the injury, it is the mismanagement of the injury that is the real problem.