There was a professional football game Thursday night of which I saw maybe an hour, and most of that hour comprised the last few minutes of the contest when Carolina was driving down the field for a go-ahead score. They never got it. During that time, Carolina’s quarterback Cam Newton absorbed some shattering hits, including one helmet-to-helmet collision that knocked him noticeably woozy.
I guess I’ve seen too many football games and seen too many men laid flat to be affected by a play such as that, because I sat there mindlessly and watched the game continue to the end…and watched Cam Newton finish it. I never questioned anything—just another NFL season ready to possess us.
It wasn’t until the next day when I fully comprehended what I had seen, and it took a newspaper article to point it out: Cam Newton should not have been out there at the conclusion of that game. The NFL’s new policy should have forced the quarterback off the field and to the sidelines to gauge the seriousness of that head trauma.
According to the league, however, everything was handled appropriately. Here’s the official statement:
There was communication between medical personnel on the Carolina sideline, including the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, and the two independent certified athletic trainer spotters in the booth. During stoppage in play while on-field officials were in the process of administrating penalties, the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant and team physician requested video from the spotters and reviewed the play. They concluded there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal of the player from the game.
I don’t know exactly what an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant does, though it’s apparently a title with which you could anoint anyone watching the game. So from my position as an amateur unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, Cam Newton should have been sitting—or reclining as the game ended. When Newton spoke about it afterwards, he told reporters that he’d been asked some questions to judge his ability to continue. What he didn’t say was that those questions had been asked after the game.
Obviously there’d have been hell to pay if Newton, with a chance to lead Carolina to victory, had been removed. But beyond that, what will stop other reckless and hungry defenders in crucial situations from making similar dangerous contact, absorbing the yardage penalty, the possible ejection, even a fine, if it meant eliminating the star quarterback from the final minutes of a game? Kind of a no-brainer—as inappropriate as that phrase is in this context.
We used to be warned that, with the viciousness of the contact and the size and speed of the players, someone was going to get killed one of these days. It’s already happened on a frightening scale. We respond to names like Junior Seau and Ken Stabler, but more shocking is the story of Tyler Sash, former New York Giant, who died at the age of 27 in an advanced state of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Twenty-seven and dead from what equates to dementia.
Thursday there was a game, and today we officially start the NFL season. I know I’ll be watching, though with every crippling hit and every devastating contact and every new tale of an early death, the habit becomes more and more difficult to justify.