December 15, 2015
Professional, collegiate, and high school sports teams have been instituting sideline concussion protocols. With the increased exposure in the media, at least at the professional level, these teams have hurriedly pushed out procedures for diagnosing concussions in the middle of a game.
Coaches, players, medical personnel, and fans have all complained about these protocols. Medical personnel frequently see them as not being complete enough to be useful, while players, fans, and coaches see them as being an inconvenience at best and a punishment for players at worst.
Regardless of which side of the aisle your opinion lands, one thing most people agree on is that, in the state that they are in today, sideline concussion protocols are a joke. We’ve compiled a list of the more prevalent reasons that current sideline concussion protocols are not working.
Let’s face it. The NFL could do better to enforce the sideline concussion protocols. There have been several instances of players violating the protocol by returning to the game for big plays in the middle of their evaluation. This doesn’t protect the players and it doesn’t help the medical staff get the diagnostic information they need. And what does the league do about it? A strongly worded reprimand.
Star players are frequently pushed through the evaluation in a matter of minutes - most famously when Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger went through three plays of “evaluation” during a crucial 4th-quarter drive against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2014-2015 season’s AFC Championship Game. It simply isn’t possible for a medical team to honestly evaluate a concussion in a few minutes, and yet big players get rushed back onto the field in a short-sighted move that could put the player’s career in jeopardy.
It is necessary to protect players from concussions, especially the devastating results of a second concussion suffered immediately after a first. However, in light of their ineffectiveness, the current protocol is little more than an inconvenience for everyone. Some symptoms of a concussion can take hours to show, so it is absurd to assume that an accurate diagnosis can be made within a few minutes.
In the 2015 Women’s Soccer World Cup match between USA and Germany, US midfielder Morgan Brian and German striker Alexandra Popp smacked heads in a sickening collision that left the entire world holding their breath. Within 5 minutes, both players were back in the game. After the game, Brian commented “As a player, you want to keep playing. So you’re going to tell yourself in the moment, with all the adrenaline, that nothing is wrong.”
It’s hard to make an accurate diagnosis of a concussion when you have no neurological baseline off of which to base a decision. Frequently, the diagnosis is driven by a basic physical examination and the player's answers to subjective questions.
Most people agree that sideline concussion protocols are a joke. Something needs to be done to protect athlete, using objective medical diagnoses, instead of what amounts to a rubber stamp.
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