By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) — NFL doctors need to have their heads examined.
Last week two players were judged to have violated proper protocol after being diagnosed with a concussion. Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari actually went back into the game for special-teams duty on an extra point attempt just after being removed due to the injury, and without clearance to return.
Meanwhile, Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis suffered a concussion against the Eagles, and refused to leave the sideline as instructed.
So who bears the responsibility for any wrongdoing, according to the official response from the league’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee?
The guys suffering from acute brain trauma.
I wish I were kidding. But in a letter to all team doctors and trainers as reported by the Associated Press, it was clear that the burden is now on the injured players themselves to exercise the proper judgment to keep themselves from further harm.
“We emphasize that we find no fault in how the team medical staffs conducted themselves last weekend,” the letter stated. “If a player refuses to follow your advice and leave the sidelines after being diagnosed with a concussion, we recommend that the head athletic trainer seek assistance from the player’s position coach (or another member of the coaching staff) or from another team official to remove the player from the sidelines as soon as possible.”
So let’s get this straight. Two guys injure their brains, the described process was not followed by trainers or doctors, and they determine that there is “no fault” by anyone but the two players themselves – guys who had just failed concussion tests, proving the impairment that caused their removal in the first place. How can they possibly be expected to do all the right things per NFL standards when they cannot think clearly? The fault is obvious, and serious.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it, “So this is another twist in the NFL’s everlasting questionable handling of concussions. In this case, the league has put the onus on the player.”
Did Joseph Heller write this?
The illogic and irresponsibility is maddening. We don’t need to rehash the harrowing anecdotes from players with the unfortunate experience of confusion and memory loss after a blow to the head. We see their eyes roll back, we watch them stagger like drunks toward the wrong sideline and drop to their knees, with hands clasped over their earholes.
That a concussed player then has any responsibility whatsoever for his adherence to specific rules is completely preposterous.
And the idea that coaches have any time for helping the training staff in the middle of the chaos of game action is wishful and unrealistic. Coaches only want to know whether a player is available or not: up or down, in the jargon. If down, he all but ceases to exist.
The doctors are already conflicted, we know. Serving their sworn professional responsibility to a patient often pushes up against the team’s desire that the patient get back out there as soon as possible for more clobbering. But this one’s not hard, as I see it.
Those still able to think straight have to be the ones in charge of what happens next, not the poor souls who they just ruled out, specifically due to a loss of cognitive function, whom we know are unlikely to remember any of it. Doctors are the ones who have pledged to do no harm, and part of that should be their obligation — along with the athletic trainers — to do everything in their power to protect a player clinically unable to think for himself.
Somebody with a brain needs to fix this.