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League needs to treat “concussion-like symptoms” like concussions

Hines Ward

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (86) looks on from the sideline after being taken out of the game when he was injured in the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)


The Steelers have become the masters of the concussion loophole. Last year, when receiver Hines Ward suffered a concussion during a Sunday night game on NBC, the Steelers said he had a neck injury, and the Steelers allowed him to stand on the sidelines in pads for the rest of the game.

That incident contributed to the NFL’s insistence in 2011 that players with concussions be removed from the playing area.

And so the Steelers apparently have found another loophole.

This year, they use the term “concussion-like symptoms” when a player has suffered an apparent concussion. They did it several weeks ago with safety Troy Polamalu, and they did it last night with Ward, after a helmet-to-helmet hit from Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis that should have drawn a flag.

Of course, the modified “C” word was used only after the Steelers claimed during the game that Ward had a stinger. (Or was it “stinger-like symptoms”?)

As explained in today’s Monday 1o-pack, the Jets demonstrated remarkable transparency in the wake of the decision to put tight end Dustin Keller back into Sunday’s game. The Steelers, on the other hand, refused to elaborate on their apparent gamesmanship regarding one of the most critical issues confronting the sport.

“We review these matters carefully each week,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT by email this morning when asked about the ability of teams to use the term “concussion-like symptoms” in possible circumvention of the concussion diagnosis. “That is as far as I can carry the discussion right now.”

Here’s hoping that the NFL tells the Steelers and every other team that there’s no difference between “concussion-like symptoms” and a concussion, that the league anticipates and pre-emptively closes any new loopholes the Steelers may try to craft, and that the NFL expands its injury-reporting obligations to require the affirmative disclosure of all pertinent information regarding the steps that were taken to determine whether a player did, or did not, suffer a concussion. Through such openness, teams will feel less able to take liberties. Also, those who organize and participate in the lower levels of football will be constantly aware that concussions need to be taken seriously, and that the assessment of players who have suffered significant blows to the head should be handled with secrecy or game strategy in mind.