Sunday’s Televised Brain Damage

Adam Chandler describes the latest incident in the concussion crisis plaguing the NFL:

During the fourth quarter of the [Super Bowl], Patriots receiver Julian Edelman took a vicious hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor that rendered him dazed. As the replays spun, a former league official tweeted that Chancellor should have been flagged for a penalty for the helmet-to-helmet hit, a rule that the league has enacted to stem concussions. …

Edelman stayed in the game and a few plays later, got up looking a little less than steady after another catch. Birkett later wrote that even after the drive, which resulted in a Patriots touchdown, “a medical observer was overheard radioing someone a second time saying Edelman needed to be examined.” (On Monday, “a person with knowledge of the situation” told the AP that Edelman was later tested on the sideline although, unlike [another player who suffered a hit to the head during the game], Edelman never went to the locker room.) Edelman went on to score the game-winning touchdown.

In a post-game interview, Edelman was asked about the hit. “We’re not allowed to talk about injuries,” he told reporters.

Ian Crouch sees the incident as proof that in-game concussions routinely go undiagnosed:

Earlier this season, the Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles admitted that, despite experiencing one of the observable symptoms of a concussion, he had avoided a concussion exam because, he said, he felt fine and wanted to stay on the field. How many players make that silent decision each game? The concussion protocol may even have the indirect, and perhaps unresolvable, effect of perversely incentivizing the kinds of plays that cause concussions. Helmet-to-helmet hits draw penalties and fines, but those might be offset by forcing an opponent’s top player to be removed from the game for an exam, whether he is actually concussed or not. That’s what Jamaal Charles was talking about when he said he didn’t want to be tested—he and his team might not have liked the results. …

The biggest challenge for the concussion protocol is that it relies on the coöperation of people who are motivated by more than just player safety. The Patriots needed Edelman to move the ball. Edelman wanted to continue playing. Sometimes, someone has to yell, “Damn it, guys, it’s only a game!” Even at the Super Bowl.