The NFL plans to educate game officials on concussion-related symptoms so they can help watch for head injuries suffered by players.
The decision comes after San Diego Chargers lineman Kris Dielman suffered a concussion in a collision with New York Jets linebacker Calvin Pace in the fourth quarter of a game Oct. 23. Dielman staggered as he returned to the huddle but remained in the game and finished it. He suffered a seizure on the plane ride home and was hospitalized overnight, according to reports.
Dielman’s on-field behavior was witnessed by at least one official, but not seen by Chargers’ medical personnel.
Medical representatives of the league and the NFL Players Association discussed the incident and how to improve monitoring during a meeting Tuesday in New York.
“We’re not trying to turn them [the officials] into doctors,” said Thom Mayer, the union’s medical director. “But in this case the person closest to seeing his reaction was the umpire, and the referee was there as well. We’re not blaming anyone.”
Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications, said in a written statement, “Our game officials will receive concussion awareness training and will remain alert to possible concussions during games.”
Dielman rejoined the Chargers after his release from the hospital and reportedly has been told by doctors that he will recover without complications. He sat out the Chargers’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night and is scheduled to miss at least one more game. Chargers officials have said they evaluated Dielman for a concussion after the game as soon as they noticed signs that he might have suffered a head injury.
“The [team] physicians there on the sideline just didn’t see what was available to be seen from the press box,” Mayer said.
Kevin Guskiewicz, the director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina, said it was unfortunate , but perhaps understandable, that Dielman’s injury was not seen by Chargers’ medical staff on the sideline.
“Ideally it would have been caught,” Guskiewicz said. “But even with the best-laid plans you can have, some things can slip through the cracks and that’s what happened.”
Guskiewicz, a member of the NFL’s head, neck and spine medical committee, said he favors educating game officials about concussions. He participated in the making of a video on the subject for college game officials.
“I’m not suggesting a game official should be diagnosing injuries,” Guskiewicz said. “But they can say that if they see something, it warrants removal of that player for at least one play. . . . In [Dielman’s] case, you didn’t need to be an expert to say he needed to be pulled out and be evaluated.”
Guskiewicz said he also favors having a person with a medical background in the replay booth to watch for player head injuries.
The NFL has implemented a series of concussion-related measures in the past few years, including a requirement that a player who displays symptoms be removed from a game or practice and cleared by an independent neurologist before participating again. The league has supplied teams with a set of tests to be used on the sideline and this season has required a player who suffers a concussion to be taken to the locker room.
“I think we’ve put the right things in place,” Mayer said. “We’re going to continue to be relentless in examining this.”
According to Mayer, other measures discussed at Tuesday’s meeting included requiring a player who suffers a concussion during a game to undergo a CT scan that day; devising standards for when a player with a concussion is allowed to fly; and having an independent neurologist on the sideline at every game.
Guskiewicz said he doesn’t favor the presence of an independent neurologist on the sideline.
“The medical people on the teams are very good,” Guskiewicz said. “I think we’re well beyond the point where we are worried that those people will practice medicine any differently because they’re being paid by the owner of the team.”