Weighing in on Michigan Situation

Dustin.Fink Dustin Fink

If you follow college football or listen to sports radio there is a good chance that you have been exposed to the story of Michigan quarterback, Shane Morris, and the apparent failure to keep him from the field after sustaining a head injury.  The official story from the University is that it was a communication error.

Believe it or not, that could be exactly correct.  Now, were there some possible missteps along the way by ALL involved, yes.  Is there one single person or policy in place that is to blame, no.  I offer some perspective before everyone eviscerates their choice of target in this case, lets take a look at how this could have went sideways.

The Player

Morris was roughed up a bit as the game progressed; he is a sophomore QB that was just elevated to the starting position on a premiere football program.  Certainly he displayed some orthopedic distress as he was limping heavily after a play – how many times have we seen players play through ankle/knee/leg/foot injuries and some times even celebrated for doing so.  Morris was playing through pain trying to help his team, but what happened next need not happen; however the player himself has a lot to do with how it will and did go down.

After Morris was hit in the head he attempted to get up and was obviously unsteady on his feet, he even waved off the medical team.  I have been told by a good source that he even told the sidelines it was his ankle that was the issue, not his head.  Which is entirely plausible, but due to the mechanism of the previous play would be unlikely the main reason for his wobbliness.

Athletic trainers as medical professionals are not omnipotent but we sure are close (ha) when it comes to injuries on the field/court of play.  We do rely upon input from other human beings to make quick and decisive decisions.  Doing so, in some instances, can end up creating a delay in proper treatment as it did in this case.  Morris’ insistence that he was ‘OK’ immediately after the hit was taken for face value in that very short period of time.  Considering the confluence of all the other factors for player safety – his ankle, his immediate response to the sideline, his demeanor – he was not ripped from the field.  To be honest here, I have never seen a coach, teammate, athletic trainer or other – in the college or professional ranks – step on a field to remove a player that got up and “shook it off”; usually it takes the player going down and staying down for that to happen, if he/she does not leave the field under their own volition.  Because of this, it is on the player to make sure they are seeking the proper care for their own well-being.

After the next play, Morris was removed for evaluation of his injuries.  Part of that evaluation included his head and the team  neurologist was in position and was reportedly performing his evaluation when he was removed.  After it was determined by the medical staff that he sustained a concussion (they called it mild, which grates on me like no other) his day was effectively done, except…  Morris heard his name being called to return to the field because his replacement had lost his helmet on the play and the next man up couldn’t find his.  The competitive instinct kicked in and Morris grabbed his lid and proceeded to take one snap and return to the bench.  If you were or are around competitive athletes you can fully understand how this happened, not the why but how.

In retrospect; the player needs to be much more candid with his issue of injury, no matter the body part but especially with their head.  When that player has been told he is concussed he then needs to understand that he cannot play again, that day and for a while.

The Medical Team

Someone in a position to make sound judgments about head injuries did see the play and the aftermath.  This is a fact as alluded to in the press release from Michigan on the injury;

Brandon’s statement said the team neurologist noticed the symptoms of a concussion and made his way down the sideline to check Morris’ health. Morris remained in the game for one play before he was pulled to the sideline.

He was not the only one that saw it, according to my source, other people within the team medical staff (which include head athletic trainer, assistant athletic trainers, graduate assistant athletic trainers, student athletic trainers, team physicians) also saw and questioned the disposition of Morris after the play.

That is EXACTLY why he was removed one play following the incident.  One play.  Approximately 50 seconds after the injury.

The player never stayed down and even waved off help, convincing those that wanted to help it was his ankle.  It only worked for less than a minute; he was pulled to begin his evaluation of his ankle and head.

Certainly, hindsight being what it is, that one play was too many, but with the confluence of all the other factors melded together the response time and removal was adequate.  I have seen plenty of players finish a drive before being checked out.  The Michigan staff should be given credit for getting him out of there as soon as could have been expected.

The staff also did due diligence by checking and subsequently diagnosing him with a concussion, even taking his helmet – but not hiding it well enough.  For all we know the medical staff was in the process of relaying the information to the proper channels when Morris heard his name being shouted on the sideline and responding instinctively.  We all cannot be like the Ohio State Strength Coach and plant a kid if they try to run on the field, and in this injury it would have made it worse, but I have seen physical restraint for players trying to reenter after they have been told they cannot play.

In retrospect; the medical team needed to do a better job of making sure Morris could not get back on the field.

The Coaches

Those coaches are there to coach and if a player is hurt it is “next man/woman up” in a game situation.  Why else are there athletic trainers and doctors.  Sure, in some high schools across this country the coach has to also be the team “med staff” along with coaching (which is criminal in this day an age) but not at the college level, let alone the high Division I programs.

If they didn’t see the results of the play, opposite where the ball ended up, then that is likely.  The Offensive Coordinator is probably looking at his play sheet, the head coach is probably discussing something with a part of the team or watching the result of the play.  The have the job of COACHING.

I have no doubt that had a coach seen what had happened he would have spoken up to the medical staff.  I have even more confidence that had the HC or the OC seen the play results they would have called for the back up immediately (which according to my source was in the process of happening).  The backup only would have been waved off by Morris for that one play, which he was.  Then one play later, about 50 seconds, Morris was removed.  Not by the med staff, but by the coaches.

In retrospect; perhaps the coaches could have called a timeout if they had seen what happened from start to finish.  Perhaps coaches should have more eyes on their head, too!

The Officials

The officials are also trained to look for overt signs of head injury and stop play for evaluation/removal.  Obviously the referee was convinced by Morris and his “ankle story” and what he saw to not whistle for a stoppage of play.

Again another layer of protection that was betrayed by the human aspect.

In retrospect; … uh … officials will have to be much more proactive and take heat from coaches and fans for stopping play and having a player removed.

Aftermath

Here is a LINK that has some Twitter timeline information for background.

The above is a word illustration of how complex this particular situation was; as the Michigan Athletic Director stated it all boiled down to a communication error.  But the error is not solely on the coach or med staff, it must and always includes the player.

Often times the media, me included, look for the worst of the problem and exploit it to hammer home a point.  Many times this tact is warranted.  However if you look at how this entire event transpired you can notice that just about everyone did what was expected of them, other than the final communication.

One play before being removed, when the kid has a bum wheel and enough wherewithal to lie about it, is not only acceptable but good, in my opinion.  All things considered the Michigan Medical Team should be lauded for that small feat.

If that last sentence has you scratching your head then you cannot grasp the fact that players often times were able to lie/fake their way through the end of drives and games on that same misguided gumption.  Morris didn’t fall through the cracks in terms of injury care.  Morris and his machismo were the reason he flew back on the field when he heard his name called.  Next time I bet the player cannot find his helmet!

Conclusion

I actually believe and agree with the official statement from the University, a miscommunication.

The good from this is that every university, college, pro team, high school team is going through their communication plans as we speak to make sure this type of incident is avoided.

However, with the human element so poignant with concussion it will happen again.