FENNO: No reason to believe Bryce Harper concussion conspiracies

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This much, at least, we can agree on. At 8:52 p.m. on May 13, Bryce Harper rammed face-first into the chain-link fence covering the right-field scoreboard at Dodger Stadium. The 20-year-old bounced back in slow motion, then crumpled to the warning track’s dirt and writhed in pain.

Harper left the game and needed 11 stitches to close a gash on his chin, while X-rays of his banged-up knee and shoulder were negative.

At no point was Harper diagnosed with a concussion.

That ignited a minicontroversy from armchair neurologists, insisting Harper, in fact, sustained a concussion and the Nationals wouldn’t acknowledge it. They pointed to three items, in particular:

1. Harper’s disorientation after making the wall’s acquaintance

2. Mild nausea similar to carsickness Harper mentioned to reporters the next day (it abated after he ate dinner)

3. Ill-informed comments by Davey Johnson insisting, incorrectly, that one can’t get a concussion from being hit on the chin or being knocked out (no one claimed Harper lost consciousness)

The vitriol generated by the nondiagnosis would leave one believing the Nationals engaged in a Nixonian cover-up with all the concussion know-how of Dr. Ira Casson, the NFL’s infamous “Dr. No,” to shove baseball’s brightest young star this side of Mike Trout back on the field.

“Everybody thinks they’re doctors and everybody thinks they know this and know that,” Harper told our Amanda Comak the other day. “The Nationals did everything they should. My trainers did everything. I saw two doctors in L.A. three days in a row. My trainers did everything. I feel better and my head, I feel fine.”

The well-intentioned caution and concern from living rooms and laptops across the country is laudable (and offering diagnoses based on scraps of information and television clips is tempting). Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, who directs the University of Michigan’s Neurosport Program and the NBA’s concussion program, regularly receives video clips of athletes outraged senders believed were “obviously concussed.”

“The feeling that you can make this diagnosis via video, that’s completely misplaced,” Kutcher said. “Unless you are there evaluating that athlete and giving a comprehensive neurological evaluation, there’s no way to know for sure.”

Nonetheless, the not-so-subtle implication racing through the Internet of a concussion conspiracy by the Nationals makes as much sense as, well, running into walls. What could they gain by pretending Harper didn’t have a concussion or engaging in a game of semantics to avoid using the word?

The organization’s medical conservatism became legendary last year, after Stephen Strasburg was limited to 159 1/3 innings in his first full year after Tommy John surgery. They took the long view and never wavered, even under withering national criticism and October’s bright lights.

Back in 2011, in an abundance of caution, the Nationals ended Harper’s minor-league season in August over a mild hamstring strain. To believe the course would be reserved, a concussion denied and Harper’s long-term well-being put in jeopardy for a few extra May at-bats requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

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