When Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy suffered a concussion during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Dec. 8, nobody on the Browns sideline noticed. When he briefly left the game, his hand was examined, nobody examined his head.
As a result of that oversight, the NFL announced this week that henceforth an independently certified athletic trainer, paid by the league and approved by the Players Association, will be assigned to each team for the sole purpose of identifying hits which may have resulted in concussions. They can inform sideline personnel of their observations, though the trainers are not authorized to diagnose injuries, let alone bench injured players.
Of course the presence of somebody responsible for detecting concussions will not prevent concussions. But perhaps it will help prevent situations like the one that transpired in Pittsburgh, when Colt McCoy, who is currently sidelined, was rushed back into a game he later did not remember.
In the past, coaches have often claimed they thought players who’d suffered traumatic brain injuries were fine because they knew which half it was, or because the players said they were fine. In fact, until very recently, the league itself and the doctors it employed denied any connection between the brain injuries players endure and the problems like dementia and depression from which many ex-players have suffered.
In that context, the addition of trainers assigned to monitor players for potential concussions is at least a step in the right direction. Still there’s reason for players to think in terms of protecting themselves and their futures, because in the short run coaches will always be under pressure to employ anybody who can help them win. Cleveland Browns fullback Owen Marecic has suffered two concussions within the past four weeks, and on Tuesday he was cleared to play. Cleveland faces the Ravens in Baltimore this afternoon. Perhaps the trainer assigned to the Browns will monitor plays during which Mr. Marecic is hit especially closely.