Notre Dame Football: 'No-go' or 'Go-go'? The Golson Concussion Discussion

By Tom O'Toole
Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

When Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly announced that his enigmatic starting quarterback, Everett “Go-go” Golson had suffered a concussion against Stanford…but then quickly added he was sure that somehow some way Golson would be cleared to play Saturday, the critics raged.

Concussion expert Chris Nowinski said Kelly should be fined, while former Chicago Bear linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who retired due to numerous concussions, called Kelly’s statement “a joke.” Meanwhile, I’m sure several pro-Tommy Rees sportswiters would have stoned the Notre Dame coach if that ancient ritual was still allowed.

Although I’m eventually going to take Kelly’s side on this one, much of what the critics said makes sense.

“If it was up to me, the Notre Dame coach would be fined for that statement because he’s now put expectations on (Golson),” said Nowinski, the co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, and the co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University. “It only adds [to Golson’s] pressure [to play],” Nowinski said. “We know symptoms don’t always show up Day 1.”

Or, as Hillenmeyer, currently involved in a lawsuit against the NFL over back pay from the Bears, explains, “The conflicts of interest where trainers and doctors are paid by the team creates a situation where everyone’s job, to some degree, depends on getting players back on the field as soon as possible.”

Of course, Golson’s concussion situation, was magnified by a similar occurrence to the Washington Redskins‘ star rookie QB, Robert Griffin III.

If Griffin’s amazing 137-yard rushing return performance in the Redskins’ victory over the Vikings served to further muddy the waters, his statement about the hit that knocked him out of the game the week before in Atlanta,”I still refuse to say I had a concussion. I had temporary memory loss,” makes the waters muddier still.

Not to mention his coach on the Redskins, Mike Shanahan, once ordered dazed running back Terrell Davis into action even after Davis complained, “I can’t see,” during Super Bowl XXXII.

Of course, it also doesn’t look so good for Kelly when Golson was not cleared by doctors Monday or Tuesday during the weekly Kelly press conference, but quietly on Wednesday after the writers went home.

Still, it’s doubtful Kelly would attempt to pull a Shanahan at a place like Notre Dame, especially after the controversies that dogged him his first season here, including ND student Declan Sullivan’s fall to his death while filming a football practice from a lift during a high-wind warning, and a St. Mary co-ed’s suicide after filing a police complaint against a Notre Dame football player for sexual harassment.

On the other hand, Golson is not “RGIII,” and as Hillenmeyer also noted, “Only when it’s a marginal player who can afford to be held out do teams err on the side of caution.” Thus, not only would Kelly be playing it safe if he held Golson out an extra week, saving him for 9th-ranked Oklahoma while Rees handled a lesser BYU team, he would also be politically correct.

I think that two things are at work here. First, Kelly wants to force BYU to prepare for both a drop back and running quarterback. But maybe more importantly, Kelly has the luxury of keeping his team on edge, competing for playing time at key positions, because he has the support of the squad’s most popular player, Manti Te’o.

So when Kelly tells the struggling Golson (and the team) that he’s our starter, it’s one thing. But when they see Te’o (who has been close to Golson from the beginning) say to him, “I have always been a believer that a player’s best friend is his confidence. If a player doesn’t have confidence, he’s not going to be very good. And if you’re here at Notre Dame, you are here for a reason,” they believe in Golson too.

And if there’s anything Kelly has learned in his three years at Notre Dame, it’s that you can never have enough belief. Or enough Te’o.

Related: Reigning in the Rain: Reflections on Notre Dame’s Goal Line Stand against Stanford

A Michael Amato Rant Slant: Tommy Rees Should Be the Starting Quarterback for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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