One of the big talking points around the NFL this offseason was concussions. And the league finally seemed to be turning a corner on the topic.
They forced Dr. Elliot Pellman – one of the great concussion deniers on the planet – into retirement. And they touted a new concussion protocol enforcement policy to hold teams accountable for recognizing them – and removing players from games when spotted.
And then the season started on Thursday night, and it was business as usual. Nobody, it appears, bothered to tell the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers or the referees about the new safety measures. Or if they were, everyone chose to ignore them.
It was bad enough that the Denver Broncos appeared to deliberately and repeatedly target the head of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, nailing him with helmet shots at least four times in the second half. Only one of them – a brutal helmet-to-helmet shot from safety Darian Stewart – was ruled a penalty. But even that was nullified because Newton, in a belated attempt to save himself, grounded the ball.
Which brings us to another issue – the referees. Newton said after the game that he warned the officials after each time he got hit in the head. Supposedly this is a point of emphasis, and yet the handkerchiefs, for the most part, remained in the pockets.
Perhaps most egregious is the lack of attention Newton’s own team paid to the issue. Coach Ron Rivera did nothing. Panthers team doctors did nothing. The NFL told ESPN on Friday that medical personnel, including an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, reviewed video of Stewart’s hit on Newton and “concluded there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal of the player from the game.”
So apparently watching video now qualifies as an “examination.” I guess we’ll never have to sit in a doctor’s waiting room again – just send the video instead.
Newton went out of his way after the game not to blame the referees or anyone else. Asked if he had gone through the concussion protocol, he said he was asked a couple of questions, “but nothing too serious,” after the game.
Newton took the high road, but others spoke up on his behalf, including Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis.
“Do you see them calling it?” Davis asked. “Early in the game, a guy took two, three steps and hit him in the head and they didn’t call a penalty.”
“We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. It doesn’t matter. They ain’t going to change it.”
There is plenty of blame to go around here. The Broncos need to be fined for targeting Newton’s head. The referees need to be sanctioned for not throwing the flag. And the Panthers need to be held accountable for not examining Newton on the sidelines – watching video from the press box and then asking him a couple questions after the game is not sufficient.
The NFL claims it is ready to do something about concussions. It claims it wants to eliminate dangerous helmet-to-helmet hits. Now it’s time to throw some real action behind all the hot air.
It’s time to actually do something about it, because what happened on Thursday night was simply unacceptable.