The Pro Football Concussion Report

A Fan's Look at Head Injuries and the Concussion Crisis in Football

Welker Proves Nothing has Changed in the NFL

Wes Welker is examined for a neck injury (NBC Sports)
Wes Welker is examined for a neck injury (NBC Sports)

11.25.13

Now that the concussion litigation is almost settled, it’s clearly “Play Ball” again for the NFL. After Wes Welker’s obvious concussion last Sunday night and his almost certain being allowed back in the game (he was), and his definitely certain return to play his former Patriots team one week later (he did), it should be clear that things for active players will be the same as they ever were.

Denver medical staff who looked at Welker immediately after his fumble and injury last week didn’t notice any concussion symptoms. Later they claimed to only examine him on the field for a neck injury.

Of course, to millions of fans watching on TV it was obvious that Welker had been momentarily knocked unconscious which should at least merit a 10 minute sideline concussion test. Instead, per usual, Welker was allowed back in the game for a few more plays before coming out and then being properly tested and pulled from the game with a diagnosed concussion. Unfortunately, this kind of medical ineptitude, at least in respect to brain injuries, still seems to work for the National Football League.

The $765M proposed settlement with former players over NFL concussion injuries does not impact the current players. They are not expected to be included in any aspects of the settlement, and not even the publicity from the lawsuit has seemed to affect the weak link of sideline medical care. Although the NFL announced two significant improvements to their game time concussion care, neither one of these programs stopped Welker from being improperly cleared for play last week. The much heralded “independent neurological consultant” was nowhere to be found when the Broncos team medical staff was evaluating the wrong body part of Welker. Also, the “Eye in the Sky” apparently did not catch what millions of fans were able to see during the nationwide Sunday night telecast on NBC. During the multitude of slo-motion instant replays it became obvious that Welker was briefly unconscious as the ball came loose after his reception. His head got knocked around pretty hard and he looked to experience some degree of whiplash that can also cause the brain to slam against the skull.

Here’s a quickie list of some of the issues the Welker example reaffirms:

1. The medical first responders rarely include a neurologist. The three medical staff that first examined Welker appeared to be a Family Medicine specialist, Dr. John Steven Geraghty and Certified Athletic Trainers, Steve Antonopulos and Corey Oshikoya.

2. The “Independent Neurological Consultant” on the sideline is only consulted at the invitation of the team medical staff. In Welker’s case, since the team medical staff didn’t suspect a concussion, there was no reason to consult the neurologist. Makes sense, right?

3. The “Eye in the Sky” is not working properly. Obviously, if an ATC up in the booth watching replays couldn’t tell that Welker may have suffered a concussion, something is very wrong with that program.

4. The medical staff on the sideline is not seeing the replays that the television audience is seeing. Nor apparently is anybody communicating to the staff what TV sees. So in a case like Welker’s, millions of people at home already knew Welker had suffered a concussion while the three medical professionals on the field supposedly examined the guy’s neck.

5. The NFL’s concussion protocol typically allows a player to resume normal activities within a few days. Welker practiced a few days later and as expected, played in the following game 7 days later. Several people on Twitter, including former quarterback Sage Rosenfels noted that Welker did not seem like his normal self. And in the end, it was likely Welker’s unusually poor decision on a punt return in overtime that cost the Broncos the game.

rosenfels-tweet

6. The two announcers on the television broadcast, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth remarkably did not notice that Welker had his bell rung, despite numerous slo-motion replays in which Collinsworth attempted to analyze Welker’s fumble. No telling what that’s about, although you have to figure that at least someone among the spotters and directors talking in the broadcasters’ ears suspected that Welker had a concussion.

Anyway, there are still many improvements that could and should be made to the way that NFL teams spot, diagnose, test and treat concussions. Many improvements seem easy to make and it’s hard to even figure out what the big deal is.

Is it really that important for Wes Welker to get back in the game soon enough so he can play like “not his normal self”?

 

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