Last weekend in the NCAA, Baker Mayfield of the Oklahoma Sooners sustained a helmet-to-helmet hit from behind by Ty Summers of TCU early in the second quarter and presented with a delayed-onset headache. After notifying medical staff at halftime, Mayfield was removed from the game for further concussion evaluation. Summers was ejected from the game for targeting.
The NCAA should be commended for the execution of their concussion protocol and enforcement of rule changes promoting player safety.
In the NFL last Sunday, Case Keenum of the St. Louis Rams sustained a concussion when he was thrown to the ground, the back of his head striking the turf. He was seen clutching his helmet and struggling on all fours as he tried to get up. Many fans who watched the incident unfold asked the same question - Why was Keenum allowed to play the remainder of the game without a medical evaluation? The NFL has recently instituted a system that provides multiple levels of scrutiny, with team trainers and independent medical spotters, to monitor players and ensure that the proper protocols are followed after a potential injury. Unfortunately, in Keenum’s case, there was a breakdown in communication which led to the oversight of not removing him from play. However, the NFL should be credited for remaining accountable, acknowledging the failure of the system in this particular case, and maintaining transparency throughout the entire process. Furthermore, to avoid similar mishaps in the future, the NFL is considering mandating disciplinary action for future violations of the concussion protocol.
While further medical tests are now being conducted, Keenum is working to return to the field for the team’s Week 12 game against the Bengals. He took a step toward doing that on Wednesday when he was a limited participant in practice. Coach Jeff Fisher said earlier this week that Keenum will start over Nick Foles if he’s cleared medically.
At this time, how can we expect the sports leagues to consistently make accurate return-to-play or remove-from-play decisions when researchers and medical professionals like myself have not been able to develop an objective, reproducible diagnostic test for concussions? Until we have a brain scan or blood test that can quickly and accurately diagnose a concussion, making the right decision every single time will be a challenge.
Take RG3 for example. After sustaining a concussion in Washington’s second preseason game, there was a discrepancy between the assessment of the independent neurologist and the team neuropsychologist.
Is the culture of concussion in professional sports changing? Absolutely. Social media lit up the moment Keenum hit the ground - the fans held the NFL accountable.
But what about the kids at the grassroots level playing Pop Warner football? Kids will look up to their heroes and emulate the pros.That’s why we should continue to encourage the same level of protocol implementation and independent scrutiny for children by involving parents, coaches, referees, and medical staff. When the progress that the NCAA and NFL have made trickles down to the children in our communities, we can change the entire culture of sport starting from a child’s very first game. If we can reduce exposure to these cumulative injuries from the very beginning, then, is it possible that the story of Frank Gifford may have been different today?
Special thanks to Dr. Jha’s research assistants Bianca DeBenedictis & Guillaume Cheung for helping compile this story.
Dr. Neilank Jha is a neurosurgeon and the head of Konkussion Inc- a concussion treatment program with clinics in Toronto, Alberta, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatchewan. The full whitepaper,"Solving the Concussion Crisis: Practical Solutions", can be viewed here.
For interview requests with Dr. Jha, please contact Jordan at Toronto PR Firm Grey Smoke Media.
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