replay rules

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

With 24 or more cameras at each NFL game, every down can be replayed, many times in slow motion, close up and personal. Most often, the replay follows the ball, highlighting the hits and misses of the game, but sometimes it focuses on the violence and injuries. And just like people slow down to stare at the remnants of a car wreck, television and internet audiences watch the damage done to the players on the field.

While playing doctor from the comfort of a couch a couple thousand miles away is not necessarily best practice, it seemed evident to the millions of people that Stewart Bradley of the Philadelphia Eagles had sustained a concussion after getting hit in the head, stumble around and fall down. The announcers knew it and evidently the people in the stadium knew it as the replay was shown over and over. And yet, with the jumbo screen showing Bradley staggering off the field, he was cleared to return to play by the medical staff in the same half.

If is easy to second guess decisions, the term Monday morning quarterback comes to mind, but the decision to allow a concussed NFL player back into the lineup so quickly affects more than that one player. From middle school to college, players, parents and coaches look to professional athletes as idols as they try to replicate the moves they see on the field. They are also affected by the off field decisions that they see. Fortunately, the medical staff recommendations are being reviewed and not swept under the counter.

The NFL Players Association is being politically correct. On one hand their representatives are saying that the concussion guidelines were being followed since initially, the player had performed well on sideline testing and it was only later that he demonstrated signs of concussion that caused the team to not allow Bradley to play in the second half. But the NFL concussion guidelines say that the player is not to return to the game if any signs of concussion were demonstrated. If the referees can go to replay to see if ball was caught or a foot was out of bounds, it would seem reasonable for the trainer to look at the Jumbotron for evidence of a concussion.

Too often, concussions have few initial signs. The hit to the head may not be obvious and symptoms may be minimal and develop over time. They may be as subtle as difficulty concentrating on homework, poor sleep patterns, irritability and fatigue. The classic concussion symptoms of that can include loss of consciousness, vomiting, seizure and amnesia do not have to be present. It is important for people around athletes to be aware of the subtle signs of concussion and to prevent a potential second concussion in quick succession to stack up on top of the first.

Long term complications of concussion need to be balanced against the relatively short career of pro athletes but there should be no balancing of risk for teenagers playing contact sports. The potential of making the pros is so small that any risk of head injury greatly outweighs it. When the NFL puts itself on display, perhaps it should remember that every play can be reviewed and has a consequence not only for the game but for a nation.

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