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League could fine players who violate concussion protocol


When a pair of players (apparently, Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis and Packers tackle David Bakhtiari) failed to comply with the league’s concussion protocol, the NFL didn’t fine the players.

In the future, the NFL could.

“The explanation is this has never been an issue,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told CBS Detroit. “Now if they run on the field without permission, is that something we could make a violation that will result in a fine? Absolutely. We’ll be talking to the union about that. They have an interest in this, too, and part of our system is that we agree with the union, we work out a fine schedule prior to the season on what fine levels are going to be for certain things -- for illegal hits, for all kinds of things.

“This has never been an issue of a player defying doctors’ orders and going out on the field. It’s never come up before, so we wouldn’t be able to fine a player in this instance, but obviously it’s something we’ll be looking at. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of it, where the player went back on the field against orders of the doctors.”

Aiello said that the topic will be addressed in the offseason with the NFLPA, and that “it’s very likely that it will become a fineable offense” in the future.

The NFLPA won’t be agreeing to any procedure that exposes football players to punishment for something they are wired and conditioned to do -- play football.

“The protocol is written in such a way that places responsibility on the teams entirely,” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told CBS Detroit. “So even if a player wanted to run back out on the field, the team shouldn’t let him do that.”

The plain language of the league’s concussion protocol strongly suggests that the obligation to keep a player from playing rests not with the player but with the team and, if necessary, the game officials: “On game day, per the Madden Rule, a player diagnosed with a concussion must be removed from the field of play and observed in the locker room by qualified medical personnel.”

Must be removed. Not remove himself; be removed.

Besides, how can the NFL impose on a player who may have a brain injury a duty to make the kind of decisions that require a fully sound mind?

As evidenced by the fact that players who have concussions often aren’t immediately yanked from the field of play, much work still needs to be done to improve the protocol. Punishing football players for trying to do what football players do serves only to obscure the flaws in the league’s ability to spot potentially concussed players and to get them off the field and confiscate their helmets in real time.