NFL Concussion Policy Investigation Leads To Protocol Changes

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In the lead up to the latest NFL season, the league touted changes to their concussion policy aimed at improving detection of injuries on the field and removing players suspected of being concussed from the field more quickly.

However, the effectiveness of these policies has been in question since the opening game of the season when Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton experienced several devastating hits to the head without being examined for a concussion.

Those who watched the game from the sidelines or on TV questioned why Newton wasn’t removed from the game despite sitting stunned on the sidelines for several minutes, holding a towel to his face. It is also unclear why he was allowed to reenter the game without an evaluation.

The NFL and NFL Players Association both launched independent investigations to determine whether concussion policy was broken by not removing Newton, the results of which were released today.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the investigation concluded the league’s concussion protocol was followed by everyone involved. Despite this, the report says issues with communication between a spotter who determined Newton didn’t suffer a concussion would lead to new adjustments to the league’s policy.

“The key finding of the NFL/NFLPA investigation into Cam Newton’s health in Week 1 was that, by the time medical officials determined that Newton should be examined for a possible concussion, the ATC spotter no longer had the ability by rule to stop the action with a medical timeout,” ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote. “So Newton remained in the game and was not examined until the end of the possession.”

“The league has changed the protocol to ensure that the ATC spotter remains in contact until he or she has confirmed that an examination has occurred.”

A joint statement released by the NFL and NFLPA praised Ed Hochuli for taking action to remove Buffalo Bills quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, to be evaluated for a concussion in a September game.

“The club medical team and unaffiliated neuro-trauma consultant reviewed the video and conducted the required examination, cleared Taylor and returned him to the game,” the statement reads. “Hochuli’s decision to send Taylor to the sideline for evaluation after spotting an observable sign of possible concussion, demonstrates a conservative and therefore appropriate application of the concussion protocol.”

The investigation into how the Newton situation was handled is notable for being the first of its kind conducted by the players union. The union said it was concerned about potential lack of oversight for Newton’s safety after he was not administered a cognitive exam while on the sidelines.

The findings of the investigations may clear up scrutiny on the handling of Cam Newton in the season opener, but they also show how imperfect concussion protocols can be in protecting potentially injured players from more severe injury.

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