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JOHN DOHERTY: Eyes don't have it for those watching over football

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Did you notice the irony? There was Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, postgame on Saturday, questioning the lack of a targeting call after Deshone Kizer was hit helmet-to-helmet in the third quarter by Virginia Tech’s Terrell Edmunds.

How could the referees have missed it? Kizer was sliding, “giving himself up.” Yet Edmunds came in full speed and flattened the Irish quarterback. Kizer then lay on the ground holding the back of his head before rising very slowly and remaining in the game.

The better question would have been why, at that point, wasn’t Kizer pulled and thoroughly evaluated for a concussion. Kelly and Kizer denied concussion symptoms when questioned in the locker room in the aftermath of the 34-31 loss. However, the symptoms were there for all to see, immediately post hit.

Surely, somebody on the Notre Dame sideline or in the coaches’ box noticed them. But why should Notre Dame and the Atlantic Coast Conference — which regulates Notre Dame’s games — be any different than the NFL? On Sundays, clearly stunned quarterbacks are routinely allowed to “collect their thoughts.” Unfortunately, it seems, the watchers need watching.

Thus it should come as no surprise, that Harvard’s supposed landmark report — released last week — on “Protecting and Promoting the Health of NFL Players,” was long-winded at 493 pages, yet short on practical input from the league or realistic remedies from those who wrote it.

Commissioned by the NFL Players’ Association, Harvard University’s ongoing “Football Players Heath Study is dedicated to understanding the causes of conditions former NFL players face, with the goal of improving their health and wellbeing.”

However, for the report published last week, Harvard experienced some resistance from the NFLPA and no cooperation at all from the NFL and its teams.

In their 12-page executive summary, the authors (three lawyers with impeccable resumes, but not a player, coach, or medic among them) identified four key stakeholders: players, club doctors, the NFL and NFLPA. Notice any group in particular that might be missing?

“Athletic trainers are generally the player’s first and primary source of medical care,” so said the authors in their executive summary. “Nevertheless,” they continued, “some players distrust athletic trainers.”

That is quite the sweeping indictment and an unfair generalization.

Still, the authors have a legitimate concern that there is an inherent conflict of interest for physicians and athletic trainers who are treating players but employed by the teams.

The solution offered?

“Player care and treatment should be provided by one set of medical professionals (called the ‘Players’ Medical Staff’) appointed by a joint committee with representation from both the NFL and NFLPA,” read the report, ”and evaluation of players for business purposes should be done by separate medical personnel (the ‘Club Evaluation Doctor’).”

According to the authors, the Players’ Medical Staff should be present daily, but have minimal communication with coaches and management and the Club Evaluation Doctor should attend games but not practices. I have no idea, though, how such an arrangement would work.

Coaches and players need real-time information during practices and games regarding participation status, not some time-consuming negotiated settlement between competing medical staffs.

One set of ethical team physicians and athletic trainers should be enough to manage the conflicts of interest that may occasionally occur.

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

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