- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 22, 2006

Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander is still looking for the 20 minutes of his life that have been missing since a hit in last week’s playoff win over the Washington Redskins.

To make sure Alexander was fit to play in today’s NFC title game against Carolina, team doctors gave him a series of tests.

He was asked to write lists of words to check his short-term memory. He viewed abstract designs to test comprehension. He filled in symbols as quickly as he could to test his mental speed.

And with that, he was declared ready to play again.

They may as well have given him a medieval bloodletting.

If Alexander were a boxer, he probably wouldn’t be allowed near a ring for 45 days, according to one of the leading ring physicians in the country.

“Looking at what was reported on Shaun Alexander, I find it amazing that he could even be considered to play, for somebody who said they were confused and didn’t know what was going on and missed about 20 minutes of his life,” said Dr. Margaret Goodman, a neurologist who is the chairperson of the medical committee for the Association of Boxing Commissions. Until recently, Goodman was the ring doctor for the Nevada Athletic Commission.

“That’s what we call a retrograde amnesia, which is an amnesia following the event for a period of time,” Goodman said. “That’s a fairly significant concussion. That person may pass all of these tests, which may not prove one thing or another, and the last thing they need is to go back into a situation where they can face subsequent injury to their head again. But nobody wants to hear this.”

Indeed, nobody in the NFL wants to hear that the league, when it comes to protecting its players, may actually be more corrupt than boxing. No coach wants to hear that his star will miss six or seven weeks because he got hit in the head.

So the NFL goes through the charade that Alexander has been cleared to play, and everybody is happy.

Remarkably, that doesn’t happen in the brutal sport of boxing.

“People condemn boxing constantly,” Goodman said. “But the truth of the matter is that if you look at how boxing is regulated, even with the smaller commissions, you’re going to see that for the most part, if a doctor has diagnosed the symptom that Shaun Alexander has described having, nobody in their right mind would allow them to go back into a situation where he could injure his head again, no sooner than 30 days, and it should be at least 45 days if not longer, depending on how his test results come out and for how long it takes for him to improve.”

In football, though, a team has to come up with a testing method to rationalize letting a guy on the field just one week after suffering a concussion.

“One of the ways that in football they have gotten around looking at it like we do in boxing is they do this neuropsychological testing,” Goodman said. “They have used their computerized batteries of tests that take about 25 minutes to do. They may get a baseline on a guy to see what their cognitive baseline is, and then if it looks like they have suffered a concussion, they will make them take a follow-up, and their neuropsychological battery will have to return to normal before they will allow them back to play. I am assuming that is at least part of what happened with Shaun Alexander.”

When reporters met with Alexander this week, they asked him about trying to get back into the game against Washington when he figured out who he was and where he was.

“When you miss 20 minutes of your life, that’s when you take it a little more seriously and just listen to what the doctors say,” Alexander said.

The problem, though, is the doctors doing the talking work for the team.

“What someone needs to raise, and I don’t mean for this to be derogatory toward any team physicians, is that in the sport of boxing, doctors are employed by the commission,” Goodman said. “… But it is a different bag when you are employed by the team. You have an automatic conflict of interest. You are being paid to put that athlete back on the field.

“I know they have wonderful doctors who work in the NFL, but the bottom line is I can’t even imagine how you could fathom to put a guy back on the field [eight] days after suffering a fairly serious concussion. You just wouldn’t do it.”

It is done in football all the time — with a clear conscience.

The way Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren sees it, they are protecting Alexander.

“I think in this day and age we’re being more careful with that type of injury, and that’s the right thing to do,” Holmgren said.

At least no one uses skullcaps anymore, the herb used in medieval times to treat headaches. The NFL certainly has come a long way.

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