Editorial: Is the NFL’s concussion protocol optional?

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Most sports fans are currently holding on, waiting for February 4 when the 52nd Super Bowl will be played. However, as the NFL playoffs continue to proceed into the divisional matchups this upcoming weekend, it’s getting tougher to watch a league that doesn’t seem to have a sound concussion protocol.

When Travis Kelce, of the Kansas City Chiefs, was hit on Saturday versus Tennessee the tight end was completely dazed and unable to stand on his own two feet. Kelce went through the concussion protocol and was ruled out for the game.

Kelce led the Chiefs this season in receptions with 83, had a team-high eight touchdown catches and was second on the team in receiving yards. Yet, with the talent on the Chiefs, it was easy to rule Kelce out for the game. They still had running back Kareem Hunt and wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

Where things get messy with the NFL’s concussion protocol is when a team’s star, someone who makes a difference between a win and a loss, is put through the process. For example, on Sunday, quarterback Cam Newton, was hit and while coming off the field, Newton fell to the ground.

The Carolina Panthers couldn’t afford to lose their star quarterback, especially in a playoff game — win you move on, lose and your season’s over. So, Newton was checked on by Panthers trainers and was cleared to play even showing symptoms before coming off the field. Newton said it wasn’t a hit to the head, but that his visor got in his eye.

Chris Nowinski, founding CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, took to Twitter to express his thoughts: “I cannot believe the NFL blew their new concussion protocol in the second week with Cam Newton. Heads need to roll, and I’m not talking about concussed players who are receiving negligent medical care[.] Even if he was faking an injury to buy time, since he went down right after a massive head impact, the new NFL concussion protocol dictates he had to go to the locker room for a full evaluation. He did not. So the protocol was breached whether he had a concussion or not.”

The NFL has since commented saying they’re in contact with the Panthers regarding their handling of Newton, so we don’t have a clear answer to what really happened.

However, this is getting tough to watch. These are human beings going full contact, helmet-to-helmet, and teams seem to put their best interest in the way of the player. Anyone remotely competitive knows an athlete isn’t going to admit to an injury, especially in a playoff game.

How does the NFL keep getting such a serious problem wrong, when it’s one of the main reasons its ratings are on the decline?

The NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers handled a concussion like any team or league should this past weekend. The Clippers Blake Griffin, who had just returned from an injury, was elbowed in the head. Once hitting the floor, it was clearly visible that Griffin was shaking. He was taken to the locker room and ruled out with a concussion.

The Clippers could’ve easily cleared Griffin, because for one, they just got their all-star back and two, really need to start winning games.

The NFL’s new concussion protocol might only be two weeks old, but if more situations like Newton’s continue, it’ll be tough to watch any NFL. Human safety should be part of any workplace and clearly the NFL doesn’t get that.

The NFL has three weeks left this year: divisional playoff games, conference playoff games and the Super Bowl, so if they really want to emphasis player safety, they need to show it now.

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