Concussion prevention has been an ongoing discussion in the NFL as research is continually released that points to clear links between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and lifelong health problems. This week was no exception, as concussion-related incidents re-ignited the debate over whether the league does enough to protect its players.
Most notable was Seattle Seahawk’s quarterback Russell Wilson appearing to skip out on NFL concussion protocol to return to the field—an act which could see the Seahawks heavily fined and has critics pointing to shortcomings in the system.
Russell Wilson Sustains Head-to-Head Hit in Seahawks Cardinals Game
Wilson’s apparent dismissal of league concussion protocol occurred in the third quarter of the Seahawk’s November 9, 2017, game against the Arizona Cardinals. Wilson had just thrown the ball in the Thursday night game when Karlos Dansby, one of the Cardinals linebackers, hit him in a helmet-to-helmet hit that saw Wilson’s jaw slammed by the top of Dansby’s helmet.
Referee Walt Anderson spotted the hit and sent Wilson to the sideline concussion examination in the medical tent. It’s not clear if a league-mandated physician or trainer flagged Wilson for a potential concussion, but Wilson himself said that he believes Anderson may have sent him for examination because he spotted the quarterback touching his jaw as he was “laying in the ground for a second.”
Austin Davis, the Seahawks’ backup quarterback, took the field while Wilson headed for the medical tent, but Wilson stepped inside for only a moment—too short a time for any concussion protocol checks—before re-emerging from the tent and heading back to the sideline and into the game. The Seahawks ended up punting shortly thereafter, and Wilson may have gone back to the medical tent for further examination while the Cardinals’ offense took the field.
NFL Officials Investigating Seahawks for Russell Wilson Concussion Protocol Violation
ESPN, citing a source close to the situation, says that the Seahawks were in clear violation of the NFL’s concussion protocol when they allowed Wilson to return to the game without first visiting the Seahawks’ locker room to be cleared for play by both a doctor for the team and an independent physician.
The day after the game, the NFL announced that it would conduct a “thorough review” of the incident, and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) would join in those efforts. The NFL and NFLPA agreed last year that the two entities would each have a representative at games to ensure that teams were complying with the concussion protocol and that violations would be jointly investigated. Should the NFL and NFLPA disagree on whether the Seahawks violated the protocol, a third-party arbitrator will be brought in to reach a conclusion.
Seahawks’ Coach Says Little About Concussion Investigation
Pete Carroll, the Seahawks’ coach, spoke with the Seattle Times on November 14, 2017—a day before the team was interviewed by league officials—about the investigation into the incident.
“We are cooperating with [officials] and there is some stuff again tomorrow and we are just doing the work we need to get all the information,” Carroll said.
Carroll was tight-lipped when asked if Wilson was evaluated per NFL concussion protocol.
“I need to see what they think about that. I just know what I was told during the game and we are going to unveil all of that and talk our way through it and (with the) referee and all that and figure it out,” Carroll deferred. “So I really can’t give you any details right now. But we should know more in a couple days I think.”
If officials find that the Seahawks did violate the NFL’s concussion protocol, the team could receive a fine of $150,000, or, possibly, a loss of draft picks.
Russell Wilson Has Appeared to Get Around Concussion Protocol in the Past
This is not the first time Wilson has been highlighted seemingly failing to get in line with the league’s concussion protocol. Wilson took a hard hit from Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers during the 2015 NFC championship game. Matthews’ illegal block created the prime conditions for Wilson to sustain a concussion, but no concussion evaluation appeared to have taken place.
Fox Sports announcer Erin Andrews, reporting at the game, said instead that medical personnel from the Seahawks spoke with Wilson “for about two seconds”.
Colts Quarterback Passes Concussion Test, Later Determined to Have Concussion
The Indianapolis Colts joined the Seahawks in the concussion controversy later in the week in a game against the Pittsburg Steelers. As with the Seahawks game against the Cardinals, the Colts were in the third quarter when the Stephen Tuitt, a defensive end for the Steelers, collided with Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett head-to-head.
Brissett reached for the back of his head as he lay on the ground, and required help from his teammates to stand up. He also appeared unsteady as he made his way to the sidelines following the hit. That didn’t stop Brissett, however, from returning to the field for the Colt’s next offensive possession.
Dr. Chris Nowinski, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, was quick to take to Twitter to criticize the handling of the incident.
#NFL#concussionprotocol is a fraud. QB Jacoby Brissett goes back in after showing the clearest concussions signs of the season. Helmet-to-helmet hit, holds head, then goes limp, then needs help up. You don’t need a protocol to hold this player out for the game.
Dr. Nowinski also embedded a video of the incident to the post.
The Colts, however, said that Brissett was examined after the hit by not only their team doctors but the independent neurological consultation that attends every NFL game. All cleared Brissett to play, according to the team.
It was only after that game that the Colts announced that Brissett had “developed symptoms” for a concussion and they would follow the league protocol to address it. Critics say that this can happen with immediate evaluation, and advocate for a time minimum that would require players suspected of being concussed to wait a set amount of time before returning to the field, giving a better chance for TBI symptoms to develop and be identified.