It is time for the NFL to make a hard and fast rule on players playing with concussions. Instead of running tests and waiting a week to decide on whether they can play, teams should just declare them out for the next game.
If a player is knocked out of a game with concussion-like symptoms, he must be cleared by a doctor in order to reenter. If they are unable to return, then they must pass a series of neurological tests before being allowed to play in any succeeding game. This is for the safety of the player and to protect the team and league from liability.
By giving players a chance to participate in the following game, the NFL has created a gray area which needs to be avoided. Players will do whatever it takes to get back onto the field. Most do not fear head injuries as much as they should. If there is any way that they can get a doctor’s consent to play, a player will. This is the nature of the game.
In high school, the rule is very simple. If a player shows any signs of a concussion, he can not return to the game without a note from a doctor. Since most teams do not have neurologists on their sidelines, this means any player that suffers a head injury is done for the day. The player is also not allowed to practice or play until he has doctor’s clearance. This rule was implemented a few years before the NFL adopted it.
At the prep level, in most cases, if a player suffers a concussion, he is not allowed to play the following week. This is done whether he has clearance or not. In high school, as at all levels of football, it is better to be safe rather than sorry.
The NFL needs to adopt this standard as well. Instead of letting players come back into a game after passing neurological tests, they should make them sit. Instead of allowing them to come back a week later, they should make them sit out at least one game. It will hurt the team on the field, but a player’s health should always take precedent over victory and defeat.
Sometimes, players and teams need to be protected from themselves. Players do not always put their health first when playing the game. They know that their careers are short and someone is always there to take their place. If playing with a concussion helps them keep their job, then they will risk it.
Coaches are so busy trying to win games that they are not always up to speed on injuries. If a player does not take himself out of a game, then the coach is unlikely to do it as well. If a player says that he can play in an upcoming game, then the coach will put him in the lineup.
So, it is up to the league to handle concussion protocol. For everyone’s sake, the best thing to do is extend the recovery period. If a player is taken out of a game due to a concussion, then he can not play the next game, period.
If the league is adamant about player safety, then they should do whatever it takes to enforce this rule.