Is It Time To Start Penalizing Teams Who Put Players At Risk?
While some think Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison got off way too lightly with a one-game suspension for his helmet-to-helmet hit that left Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy with a concussion, the main culprit has gotten off scot free so far.
It was the Cleveland Browns who by far committed the most egregious offence in putting McCoy back into the game just two plays after the violent collision left him flat on his back for a good stretch. They didn't even give the standard concussion protocol tests before sending him back into the fray. The explanation given was that the doctors didn't see the play because they were busy with other injured players.
Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon at St. Michael's Hospital and one of the country's foremost concussion experts, believes the time has come to penalize the teams who are needlessly putting players health at risk.
"People have to take responsibility," said Cusimano. "You can't hide behind this veil of 'I didn't see it' or 'I wasn't paying attention' or 'I was busy doing something else.' And that goes all the way from the league to the Players Association to the clubs to the sideline doctors. How can you say a doctor was too busy, especially at the NFL? All he has to do is look at the replay. It's all over the place. Every single level is shirking their responsibility."
Cusimano said what's needed for every level of the NFL and other pro leagues "is a disincentive or incentive that means something to them" when it comes to their management of concussed players.
"The club understands money and understands winning," he said. "But if you put in a rule where if you do something like that you lose those points, that might mean something to them, or it's a $10 million penalty. But right now it doesn't mean anything. The NHL and all these professional leagues are in the same boat and they're hiding their heads in the sand."
In some ways, the McCoy hit doesn't seem a whole lot different than the one Sidney Crosby took in the Winter Classic in that it was obvious to all that watched that it was significant and left him down on the ice for quite some time. Even Don Cherry thought Crosby was in trouble after the hit, yet he ended up coming back for that game and the next one. And look where he is now.
Maybe they need to look at holding players who take significant head hits out for the rest of the game, even if they aren't exhibiting concussion symptons. It's tough to know the real answer, but it's obvious what they're doing currently isn't working.
How important is the game they're playing in or the next game it might mean you're going to miss the next 30 or even the rest of the season and beyond, as in the case of Crosby? Consider the potential damage to the delicate brain and an athlete's future health and suddenly sitting an athlete for a game or two or three – until you are sure there are no post concussion symptoms – not only seems a wise one but a financially prudent one in protecting your asset. That does seem to be the only language these teams understand.
Instead, they minimize the injury by talking about “concussion-like symptoms” -- see colleague Joseph Hall's fine piece on this in the Star this week. What that does more than anything is put pressure on the athlete to come back early. You don't think a competitive athlete like James Reimer isn't affected when his team isn't willing to put the real name on his injury so people can truly understand what he's dealing with. It took his mother to explain the extent of what her son was trying to cope with – and weren't the Maple Leafs pleased about that?
In McCoy's case, his father is a football coach and he didn't hesitate for a second in nailing the Browns for mishandling his son's case.
Heck, even with someone with the medical accumen of Kim Kardashian would have known Colt McCoy was in trouble.
"I think if you had 10 non medical cases, probably 9 out of 10 would say that's a concussion," said noted concussion expert Dr. Charles Tator of ThinkFirst Canada. "It was one of the more obvious ones. So I don't get it. Was their doctor at the field when this happened or was he out having a hamburger or something. I don't get it. It really is puzzling. It's a real breach of conduct in my view. The player himself has to feel mismanaged.
"What would happen if he went back into play, got another concussion and died, got what we call the second impact syndrome, which is a devastating effect when the second impact comes before you fully recover from the first and you get either a terrible brain injury or you die from it. Wouldn't that player's family seek redress from the team? I think the answer's Yes. I think they're setting themselves up for significant repercussions if they don't follow the rules they put in place."
Both Tator and Cusimano had thought the NFL was making progress on the concussion front.
"Frankly, I'm a bit surprised," said Cusimano. "The NFL has lawsuits pending against them, they were taken to task in front of the U.S. Congress, they put $1 million towards the brain brank, so they looked like they were doing things. Then then allow this to happen. There's some failure of leadership there. The penalties have to be there and they have to act quickly and decisively. Otherwise, they're a laughingstock. They can't defend themselves."