- - Thursday, October 20, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Jordan Reed tried to keep his latest brain trauma quiet. But his brain wouldn’t let him.

After catching a short Kirk Cousins pass in Baltimore two weeks ago, the Washington Redskins all-world tight end was hit in the head — and it hurt. He stayed in the game, and had no intention of telling anyone he was hurting.

“I got hit in the back of the head and I kind of kept it to myself, Reed told reporters this week at Redskins Park. “I was feeling it throughout the game, but I kept playing. I had a pretty bad headache.

“The next day, I was feeling all right, then I was doing some exercises and I started to feel worse,” Reed said.

So Jordan Reed finally told Redskins coaches and medical staff that his brain was damaged. And that put him on the shelf — in the NFL’s cone of protection known as concussion protocol.

That’s such a nice way to put it — concussion protocol. It’s all the rage in the NFL.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was in concussion protocol after blows to the head in an Oct. 2 game against the Los Angeles Rams. Cam Newton is there too, but apparently that protocol didn’t go very well, and it caused the NFL enough of a headache that they had to investigate the steps it took for Newton, who suffered several blows to the head in the season opener against the Denver Broncos, to wind up in the league’s cone of protection.

Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association each launched independent investigations to see if the proper protocol procedures were followed to protect Newton. What they found were some flaws in the system that allowed Newtown to return in the game despite getting head shots.

Under the league’s concussion protocol, the NFL’s athletic trainer wasn’t allowed to call a “medical timeout” after being contacted by personnel on the field. In Newton’s case, the team physician and an unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant asked the trainer for video of the hit, but a technology glitch delayed the video. After getting the replay and observing Newton on the sideline, the physician and neurotrauma consultant said no further evaluation of the quarterback was necessary.

Under the new protocol, the trainer in the booth would be able to stay in contact with doctors on the field until receiving word that a concussion evaluation has occurred.

It’s quite the process, and the truth is that no one know if this protocol is protecting these players — not from the damage that has left numerous players from the generations that came before debilitated.

There are still no solutions — no real answers.

Lots of questions, though — troubling ones.

If now you have players every week sidelined because of concussion protocol, if this is now a standard injury report along with hamstrings and sore ribs, how bad was it 20 years ago? Or 30, 40 years ago? If we have players now being held out of games, you have to wonder how many zombies were on the field years before?

Are the numbers of players scooped up in today’s concussion protocol truly indicative of the brain damage still being inflicted on the field? How many more Jordan Reeds are out there, hiding the damage from coaches and doctors, knowing that it could cost them their career?

That’s what Reed is looking at right now — his future as a football player. We know of at least five concussions he has suffered in college and the NFL. We don’t know how many more he hid. “It’s frustrating that I’ve been dealing with it so often, but I try not to think about it too much and take it as it comes,” he told reporters.

Reed has had company in the cone of protection. Redskins rookie linebacker Su’a Cravens, who suffered a concussion in week four against Cleveland, went on social media to claim he now has to wear glasses because he suffered permanent vision damage because of the concussion.

Reports have since denied the validity of the player’s own prognosis. “Those glasses are just part of his rehabilitation,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said last week. “He’s coming along pretty good, so we understand. He’s still in the program and we’re hoping to get positive results here shortly. As far as his Snapchat is concerned, I think he deleted his account, hopefully, for a week or so, I guess.”

We can only assume that Cravens misunderstood what doctors told him —possibly because of the brain damage he suffered from the concussion. Who knows what the truth is when it comes to the league and concussions? It is as murky as a 10-year NFL veteran’s brain scan.

The presence of today’s concussion protocol illustrates how much damage was done for decades in this league — and, if league officials and doctors knew the damage for some of that time, how wrong withholding that information was. The NFL settled thousands of concussion lawsuits with a $1 billion deal, but there are many other suits still active, against the league, medical officials, helmet manufacturers and anyone else who may have been involved in, at the very least, negligence, and, at the very worst, a conspiracy — a criminal one.

You have to wonder if, at some point, an ambitious prosecutor somewhere is going to look at all this and say maybe it is time to follow legal protocol.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.
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