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How the NFL's Own Concussion Policies Failed Cam Newton

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If you were one of the millions of football fans who watched the NFL playoffs lat weekend, you likely witnessed a scary incident during a game between the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints — one that would ultimately draw heavy national debate on athlete safety and the effectiveness of concussion testing.

Cam Newton, the Panthers’ star quarterback, took a vicious hit to the head late in the game and appeared to stumble near the sideline before being tended to by the team’s medical staff. He was subsequently evaluated for a concussion on the sideline and eventually returned to the game a few plays later.

However, many leading medical experts and sports journalists are condemning the Carolina Panthers and the NFL for how they handled Newton’s injury. They argue that, per the NFL’s own policy, Newton never should have been cleared to play that quickly without receiving a more thorough evaluation in the locker room. In particular, they point to his instability while walking to the sideline as grounds for a more in-depth exam.

I cannot believe the @NFL blew their new #concussion protocol in the 2nd week with Cam Newton. Heads need to roll, and I’m not talking about the helpless #concussed players who are receiving negligent medical care— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) January 8, 2018

The NFL and its teams continue to make a mockery of the concussion protocol. (And don’t at me and say it was an eye. Once he went to his knee, rules state he has to be taken to the locker room.)— Nancy Armour (@nrarmour) January 8, 2018

Others, including Newton himself, have stated it was an eye injury and not a concussion that forced him to leave the game. But the rules are pretty clear: once he stumbled and fell to the ground, the letter of the NFL law should have protected him and allowed for proper determination of the severity of his injury.

Specifically, these new NFL guidelines — which were implemented less than a month ago — require players who have visible balance issues and/or are stumbling after an impact hit to immediately undergo a concussion evaluation in the locker room. It also requires them to be cleared by an independent neurological consultant prior to returning to the game.

In addition, it is important to note that there are numerous vision symptoms after a concussion, which may not even manifest right away and can further muddy the diagnostic waters. That is why it is imperative the appropriate medical personnel spend as much time as is necessary and use all the available tools and resources to ascertain the right diagnosis.

The reaction on social media continued to pour in overnight, with many expressing disappointment and even calling for severe punishment for the Panthers organization as well as stricter enforcement of NFL policy.

The Panthers/Saints game was a prime example of how flimsy the NFLs concussion protocol is. Cam Newtown was out on his feet and returned to the game only missing 1 play. What a joke ! #CTE #NFLPlayoffs— smokecreek (@smokescreek) January 8, 2018

.@AdamSchefter is fired up after another NFL concussion controversy.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 8, 2018

The concussion protocol is such a joke. Cam Newton had a concussion last night and the NFL just let him go back in.— H (@HStep0513) January 8, 2018

WATCH: The NFL’s concussion protocol remains a joke after Cam Newton hit— SI Now (@SInowLIVE) January 8, 2018

These rules were put into place for a reason. After all, we are talking about a man’s potential long-term health and vitality. Concussions are serious and carry with them dangerous consequences, and it is important for professional athletes as well as the teams that support them, to send the right message to the families who watch the sport.

This controversy represents a major setback for the NFL too. The league relies on the health of its superstar players to draw fans to the stadiums and to their television screens every Sunday. With the increasing violence of the game, higher rates of on-field head injuries and significant health effects from conditions like CTE, they must now take additional steps to reaffirm their commitment to a safer sport on the field.

Because ultimately, it was the responsibility of the the NFL and the Carolina Panthers to step in and prevent the outcome of the game from impacting player safety. And, in the end, they both failed Cam Newton and the fans.

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Image by Jeffrey Beall 

Originally published: January 13, 2018
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