Before Saturday’s game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Oregon Ducks in Eugene, former Buffaloes’ tight end Ed Reinhardt was honored on the field, twenty-eight years after a concussion suffered in that same stadium nearly took his life.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the Arizona Wildcats upset the USC Trojans, thanks in part to a touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Scott who, just moments before the score, was vomiting on the field after taking a head-to-head hit.
After the touchdown, Scott was evaluated by trainers and did not return to the game, leaving many wondering why the Arizona medical staff waited four plays to perform a standard concussion test.
We know more now about head injuries than we did during Reinhardt’s playing days. Concussions are serious and potentially life-altering.
More than 2,000 former NFL players filed a lawsuit this summer alleging that the league concealed information linking concussions and long-term, often-debilitating, brain injuries. The league has instituted stricter rules regarding helmet-to-helmet hits and has pledged $30 million to concussion research.
Player safety has become a focal point the NFL and college all the way down to Pee Wee leagues, but teams and athletes still aren’t getting the message.
Just last weekend, coaches, referees, and league presidents were suspended after five Pee Wee football players sustained concussions in a single game.
Too often, the youngest football players are at the greatest risk, because they don’t have the same level of coaching and access to immediate care as college and professional athletes.
That’s not the case with a Division I program like Arizona. There’s no excuse for Scott not to have been evaluated after absorbing that hit Saturday night.
USC’s T.J. McDonald hit Scott in the helmet as he slid at the end of a run, drawing a personal foul. When the quarterback got back on his feet, he vomited on the field – a sign of a possible concussion.
Yes, athletes yak before, during and after competition for a variety of non-concussion-related reasons, but when a player takes a hit like Scott did and then starts vomiting, it’s unconscionable to allow him to continue to play without first being evaluated.
Scott played four more snaps, took another hit, scored a touchdown, and only then was he replaced by B.J. Denker. Replacing Scott indicated that something was, indeed, wrong – and it’s what should’ve happened immediately.
Scott told his teammates and his coach he was fine. That’s not his call to make. It’s not the coach’s either.
Responsibility for player safety falls on the medical staff. Head coaches have a lot to consider during a game. Perhaps Coach Rich Rodriguez was watching something else during and after the hit and didn’t see it, but the broadcast team and the rest of the nation watching on television could see Scott wasn’t fine.
The trainers should’ve known, alerted the coach, and gotten Scott out of the game immediately. His life could’ve depended on it.
Back in 1984, Colorado’s Reinhardt suffered a concussion late in the game, on what was reportedly a fairly “normal” hit. According to current CU coach Jon Embree, who was Reinhardt’s roommate at the time, the tight end had complained of headaches before the game. The fourth-quarter concussion caused a blood clot that required emergency surgery.
Reinhardt spent a month in a coma. He never fully recovered.
Embree told The Daily Camera this weekend that he believes earlier concussions played a role in the severity of Reinhardt’s injury. (Much is still unknown about concussions, but most doctors agree that the risk of a second concussion goes up dramatically if a player returns before his or her brain is fully healed.)
Witnessing Reinhardt’s injury and his long fight for his life has made Embree more cautious about how he handles player injuries – and all players would be lucky to have a coach with that perspective.
Football is a dangerous game, but there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risks, steps like removing players from the game when a concussion is suspected.
Failing to do so, and putting players at even greater risk for more serious injuries and long-term damage, is negligent and irresponsible. Given what we know today about concussions and brain injuries, there’s absolutely no excuse for it.