Last weekend, the NBA saw a dramatic brain injury in a game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.
As Blake Griffin was driving towards the goal during the first quarter, he was elbowed in the forehead. The hit immediately made Griffin fall to the floor and grab his head before his hands began visibly trembling.
Really scary moment here. hope Blake Griffin is OK pic.twitter.com/ThQTtFuGoN
— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) January 6, 2018
The injury is perhaps the most visible concussion in the NBA’s recent history, but it is also disconcertingly similar to another brain injury that recently occurred in another major sport – football.
The strange way Griffin began to shake after his injury immediately brought up memories of a recent concussion suffered by Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage. However, both leagues handled the incidents entirely differently, inadvertently revealing that the NBA clearly takes head injuries more seriously than professional football.
After Blake Griffin collapsed, play continued for a short time before referees, coaching staff, and other players noticed something was clearly wrong. Once the game was stopped, players and staff went onto the field to check on Griffin. After a few minutes, he was able to stand and walk to the locker room. He was diagnosed with a concussion not long after.
“He got hit pretty hard,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “You can always tell … when those players stick around, you know it was a hard hit. And then when you see Blake’s hand, you knew it was bad.”
When asked if Griffin was likely to return by the next game on Monday, Rivers emphasized the need to prioritize his players’ health, saying: “I just know it’s dangerous and you got to do all the right things and all the right steps.”
By all accounts, the NBA followed its concussion protocol to the letter. Now, compare this with the handling of Savage’s concussion.
— ObisKanobis (@ObisKanobis) December 10, 2017
After laying visibly shaking and unable to stand for several moments after a brutal hit to the head – all happening directly in front of an official – Tom Savage returned to the game within minutes. It wasn’t until Savage failed to complete a single pass in the following possession that staff decided to pull the athlete.
The message was clear – Savage’s health wasn’t nearly as important as his performance to staff and league officials. Had Savage continued to play at an acceptable level, he likely would never have been re-evaluated or removed from the game.
In the aftermath of the incident, the NFL declared that team staff and field officials followed the concussion protocol. However, they also instituted several new concussion rules mid-season. The question, of course, is whether these new rules would change anything when the existing concussion protocol clearly should have caught Savage’s concussion and removed him from play immediately.
The NBA deserves to be lauded for its handling of Blake Griffin’s concussion. Griffin is both well-recognized and largely respected within professional basketball. He is the type of player that coaches would rather stay in the game, unless absolutely necessary. But, when it was time to make the tough call, staff did so without hesitation. Hopefully, the NFL will learn a thing or two from them.