The star running back returns to the huddle for the upcoming play. The ball is on the 2-yard line, third and goal to go. His team is trailing by four points with 30 seconds left in the game. He had his bell rung the previous play, and was slow getting up. The quarterback saw the running back's eyes were dazed as his number was called to carry the ball for the third down touchdown attempt. As they broke the huddle, the blocking back, seeing the uncertainty in the running back's face, told him "follow me to the goal." The Referee watched the back from the bell ringing , through the huddle, and into position for the start of the play. The game was stopped, the referee sent the running back to the sideline for medical evaluation, and the player could not return until cleared by medical personnel. He also has to sit out one play.
What is going on? This is football!! Isn't it? Not this upcoming year. Concussion recognition from sports injuries is the major topic among high school and college administrators, and the management of those injuries is the focus of safety emphasis in all sports. Twenty percent of all injuries in high school football are concussions. In all contact sports combined, 15.3 percent of bodily injuries to athletes are head and face injuries. A four year study by the NCAA from 2005–09 showed seven percent of all college football injuries, and 11 percent of women's soccer injuries, were concussions. Reason enough to get serious about reducing this type of injury.
Whose responsibility is it to get the player evaluated? Fellow NCAA schools this year have addressed the situation at the student-athlete level, requiring all engaged in the athletic program to view a video on concussions, learn the major signs and symptoms, and sign an affidavit that they will report to the appropriate authorities anyone suspected of having those signs or symptoms.
I talked with Ken Murray, Associate Athletic Director of Sports Medicine at Texas Tech, and he said Tech is complying at all levels, players, trainers, and coaches, with the increased scrutiny of concussion injuries and their care.
Team medical personnel are required to be well versed in evaluating a student athlete who shows suspicious signs of concussion. They will determine the appropriate treatment an athletic needs to properly heal from the injury. This may range from sitting out one play, one series, or even the season.
Also the official must be cognizant of the signs and symptoms of a concussion. "We don't want officials playing detective or doctor" says Dr. Michael Koester, chair of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee which helped develop guidelines for officials. "We don't want officials overstepping their bounds. They are told not to diagnose, let the trained medical personnel do that. Officials are to recognize signs and symptoms and get the student-athlete medical attention." It is easy to see a bleeding arm, and send the player to the sideline until the bleeding has been stopped. But concussions are more esoteric. The official may not have seen the injury, and needs to be vigilant as he observes the players' actions and reactions, sending the athletic for appropriate medical evaluation, even if it is a critical time in the contest. The coaches and fans may not agree with the removal of that player, but the safety of that player is paramount to the game.
Is this giving an official too much chance to interfere with the outcome of a game? It may seem so in the scenario above, but no more than the pass interference in the 1st quarter, or the holding that called back a touchdown in the third quarter. It is a judgment call, a major point of emphasis this year, and be certain the player safety aspect of concussions will have officials sending more players to the bench for medical evaluation than ever before. Also fellow players may be seen directing their teammate for help. Let's hope the vigilance will lead to less severe outcomes of the injury.