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Steelers again hide behind “concussion-like symptoms”

Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 27: Safety Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is injured while hitting Steve Maneri #68 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the game on November 27, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Virtually every time the Steelers play a primetime game on Sunday, a key player sustains an apparent concussion and the team apparently tries its damnedest to keep the key player away from the unpredictable and restrictive gears of the league’s concussion protocol.

It happened again last night, when safety Troy Polamalu took a knee to the noggin. Instead of promptly taking him to the locker room for a full evaluation under quiet and calm circumstances, the Steelers allowed him to remain on the sidelines for the rest of the first half -- at one point with his helmet on, as if he were returning to the game.

Fortunately, the Steelers got wise during intermission, deciding to leave Polamalu in the locker room for the balance of the game. Given their past handling of head injuries, that’s progress.

Still, after the game, coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t admit that Polamalu suffered a concussion. Instead, Tomlin once again broke out a term that he has used at least twice before this season: “concussion-like symptoms.”

It’s unclear whether this term allows the Steelers to skirt the concussion protocol, but there has to be a reason for the franchise’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge that a player has suffered a concussion. And while I firmly believe that men who have suffered a concussion but who are lucid should be able to assume the risk of returning to action before every last symptom of the concussion has disappeared, teams need to be honest -- and fully transparent -- when it comes to determining that a player has suffered a concussion.

Three weeks ago, the Jets and the Steelers provided starkly different examples regarding the willingness, and lack thereof, to offer candor on this critical question. Pittsburgh’s refusal to discuss such situations perhaps contributed to Al Michaels’ comparison last night of the Steelers to “old East Germany” when it comes to the flow of information.

It’s a fair comparison, and more people need to be willing to call out the Steelers for their handling of concussions.

Or, more accurately, for their handling of concussion-like symptoms.