NFL announces sudden changes to the league’s concussion protocol

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In light of growing criticism of the league’s handling of concussions on the field this year, the NFL has made some last-minute changes to its concussion protocol – including placing a central unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant (UNC) in the league’s “command center” for all games.

The new rules and changes were quietly approved December 11th by the league’s head, neck, and spine committee. The changes were also approved by the medical director for the NFL Players Association, Dr. Thom Mayer before being implemented two weeks ago.

When asked about the changes, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said they were part of a continuous effort to improve the concussion protocol.

“We are constantly looking at the protocol and how it’s applied and trying to get better,” Sills told ESPN. “The process happens through the season.”

While there are a number of recent incidents that have brought greater scrutiny on the league’s concussion protocol, ESPN cites the recent on-field incident involving Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage as being the motivation for the late-season revisions.

The revisions to the protocol include a number of changes, the most notable of which include:

  • A central UNC will be stationed in the NFL’s command center to assist in oversight of each game via broadcasts;
  • Any sign of impact seizure will be considered the same as loss of consciousness and the player will be taken out of the game and may not return;
  • A referee who removes a player from the game for suspected head trauma must notify the medical staff;
  • A player who exhibits gross motor instability or significant loss of balance must be taken to the locker room for evaluation if it is not diagnosed as an orthopedic injury;
  • A player who is evaluated for a concussion must be re-evaluated within 24 hours, even if the player has an off day;
  • A third UNC will be on site for the playoffs and the Super Bowl, in addition to the two already assigned to each regular-season game.

Sills explains that the league is adding an extra UNC for the playoffs and Super Bowl to ensure a medical professional is available while players are being evaluated by a UNC in the locker room.

“One of the things we learned throughout the course of the season is how we have used the video and how we can improve,” Sills said. “We also know the people on site don’t see every single replay or review everybody at home sees. We wanted to make sure the doctors on the sidelines see the video. … Still, I should say that no concussion is ever diagnosed by video. That is for the medical personnel, but we strive to always improve the process, and that’s not going to change.”

Despite the recent criticism of the NFL’s concussion protocol, Sills said the league believes the system has been successful in 2017.

“We have had over 540 concussion evaluations, and really only two have come under investigation,” Sills said. “That doesn’t mean we’re satisfied. Our [protocols] have worked overwhelmingly in a positive matter, but we’re not satisfied. The genesis is always that you take something pretty good and make it better. No protocol covers every situation or anticipates every eventuality, just as no medical test is 100 percent perfect.”

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