JOHN DOHERTY: No love story in NFL concussion quandry

2012-11-19T22:00:00Z JOHN DOHERTY: No love story in NFL concussion quandryJohn Doherty Times Columnist
November 19, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

With apologies to Andy Williams, where do I begin?

Of course, the local angle is Jay Cutler and his concussion, with the Bears wisely deciding to sit him last night.

However, Cutler wasn’t the only quarterback concussed last week. He was joined by San Francisco's Alex Smith, and Philadelphia's Michael Vick.

Smith remained “questionable” through last week, practicing without contact, but was finally ruled out late Sunday by an independent neurologist. With Vick there was never a question. Apparently, he is still not even driving.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed their injuries and how they were handled when he gave a long-scheduled speech on player safety at the Harvard University School of Public Health on Thursday. Citing their treatment as a sign of the league’s improvement in safety, Goodell said that all three were taken out "as soon as they showed symptoms,"

I’m sorry, Mr. Commissioner. No they all weren’t. Only Vick was.

When Cutler was leveled by Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins, his hands reflexively snapped up to the sides of his helmet. He was slow – very slow – getting up. Watching the game, I instantly thought “concussion.”

Then there was a delay in re-starting the game for an official review of a penalty called against Cutler for an illegal forward pass. While Bears medical staff talked briefly to Cutler, they did not do a formal sideline exam for concussion. In the Bears’ defense, I’m sure Cutler insisted he was fine but even NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth noticed Cutler was “still shaking off the cobwebs.”

If Collinsworth was able to see that from the booth, why didn’t the league’s medical “eyes in the sky,” added this year and also up in a booth?

Same question applies to the vicious hit Smith took to the back of his head in last week’s 49ers game against the Rams.

Regardless, both quarterbacks remained in their games for extended periods with Cutler throwing an otherwise inexplicable interception and Smith tossing a touchdown -- despite blurry vision.

In the days following Cutler’s injury, he was understandably unavailable to the media. Who, though, thought it would be a good idea to trot out Brian Urlacher as a surrogate? Having already established his cluelessness on concussion on HBO’s Real Sports in January, he largely gave a repeat performance.

Still, one observation he made, which was widely ridiculed in the media, shouldn’t have been. The middle linebacker is absolutely right regarding the league’s blindness to the danger of chop blocks to defenders’ knees. I agree that I would rather suffer one concussion than require reconstructive knee surgery.

The vast majority of people recover from a single concussion in a relatively short period of time with no side effects. A knee reconstruction means the end of a season – sometimes a career, about a year of rehabilitation and a very high likelihood of major arthritic changes later if life, which just mean more surgery.

Concussions don’t require surgery but at times, particularly with repeat episodes, the recovery can be prolonged. So in Cutler’s case, with multiple previous concussions in his past, how long does it last?

I have no answers now but this much I can say: the Bears’ independent concussion specialists will release him to practice when he is symptom-free at rest and with exertion, passes neurocognitive testing, and displays normal balance. Not a moment sooner.

John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATC.

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