The NFL Didn't Follow Its Own Concussion Protocol For Cam Newton

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So Cam Newton’s brain got pounded multiple times but he didn’t get checked for a concussion until after the game? Don’t worry, the NFL can explain everything (emphasis mine):

“There was communication between medical personnel on the Carolina sideline, including the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant, and the two independent certified athletic trainer spotters in the booth. During stoppage in play while on-field officials were in the process of administrating [sic] penalties, the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant and team physician requested video from the spotters and reviewed the play. They concluded there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal of the player.

That’s questionable, but it’s not even the point.


The independent neurologist tasked specifically with making sure the league’s concussion guidelines were followed watched a video of Shaquil Barrett and Darian Stewart’s tag-team maneuver and somehow determined that Newton was not concussed. That’s obviously medically specious, but it’s also not even how the concussion protocol is specifically designed to work. See for yourself:

An athletic trainer serving as a “spotter” for both teams will be present in the stadium booth with access to multiple views of video and replay in order to aid in the recognition of injury. The ATC “spotter” will introduce him/herself to the medical staff for both teams prior to the game to discuss protocol. Communication between the athletic trainer and the medical personnel on the sideline is available so that the athletic trainer in the booth can report any plays that appear to involve possible injury. The teams’ medical personnel may also initiate communication with the spotter to clarify the manner of injury. The sideline medical staff will be able to review the instant replay on the sidelines so that particular plays involving injury can be reviewed.


So far, that seems to square with the NFL’s explanation. But if you read just a little further, you’ll see that the league’s explanation for why Newton wasn’t evaluated during the game is totally bunk (emphasis mine):

In the event the occurrence of a concussion is unclear, or a player sustains a mechanism of injury (“big hit”) that is reasonably expected to give rise to a concussion, and/or a concern is raised by another player, coach, game official, ATC spotter, or Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant, the player shall be removed immediately from the field by Club medical personal. The Team Physician best qualified to evaluate concussion shall assess the player by, at a minimum, performing a focused neurological examination …

In sum, any of the three big blows Newton took in the second half—if those don’t qualify as “big hits” to the head, I’m not sure what does—could have been enough on its own to trigger, at a minimum, an immediate concussion evaluation. One of the specific jobs tasked to the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant is to identify those “big hits,” and take immediate action, not to make an armchair diagnosis.

Remember, the league made a show this summer of the punitive measures it enacted to address any failures to adhere to its concussion protocol. Those new guidelines were tailored to address the types of brain-rattling hits that are impossible to ignore—hits just like any of the three Newton took in last night’s second half. Yet here is the league spitting out a statement that defends what sure looks like a violation of its own protocol. Charitably, it’s possible that human error was the reason Newton was not examined until after the game. But the NFL is not an organization that likes to admit it makes mistakes.


Ex-Deadspinner Dom Cosentino is a reporter and writer. He’s on Twitter @domcosentino.