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NFLPA again asks for independent doctors to check concussions

Alex SMith

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) is tackled by St. Louis Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (58) on a four-yard gain during the first quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, in San Francisco. Smith had a concussion from the play. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Paul Kitagaki Jr.) MAGS OUT; LOCAL TV OUT (KCRA3, KXTV10, KOVR13, KUVS19, KMAZ31, KTXL40); MANDATORY CREDIT.


After a Sunday in which several players -- including three high-profile starting quarterbacks -- left games with concussions, the NFL Players Association is again asking the league to put independent doctors on the sidelines to check on players who suffer head injuries.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith will renew his call for the league to hire concussion specialists who are not affiliated with any individual team to stand on the sidelines at every game and oversee testing and treatment of players who could have a concussion.

Under the current rules, teams are at a competitive disadvantage if they recognize concussion symptoms in their own players. If you work for a team and want that team to win, you might be tempted to look the other way if a key player takes a hard shot to the head because you know if he’s diagnosed with a concussion, that automatically rules him out for the rest of the game. The union believes independent experts should have final say over whether a player is removed from a game.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith all suffered concussions on Sunday, and only Vick was quickly taken from the game. Cutler and Smith continued playing at first -- even though they were both visibly shaken after hits to the head -- before eventually leaving.

The play on which Cutler was drilled with a brutal helmet-to-chin hit was reviewed on instant replay to determine whether Cutler had crossed the line of scrimmage before passing, which meant almost five minutes elapsed before the next play was run. That should have been plenty of time for the Bears’ medical staff to check on Cutler to see how he was doing after taking such a tough shot. Instead, Cutler wasn’t evaluated for a concussion right then and there and was only pulled from the game later. The NFL, however, claims that the Bears’ medical staff handled Cutler’s concussion correctly.

By the letter of the rules, the Bears’ medical staff may have handled the concussion correctly, but the NFLPA’s point is that an independent doctor might have insisted on checking Cutler immediately after seeing him take that hit, and removed him from the game immediately. Given the NFL’s increasing emphasis on player safety and concussion prevention, that seems like a hard case for the NFL to argue against.