“The real difference is, in the military our line commanders are held responsible if they aren’t taken off the line,” Ling said. “It goes right up the chain of command, which basically means that the medic can go and do their job. You can understand the pressures perhaps on the line leaders saying, ‘Oh, man, I might lose a couple of these guys, like the radio operator. I can’t lose him.’ But they realize that him impaired probably puts your unit more at risk then him flat-out not being there. The point is that now we’ve taken the onus off the individual patient to say, ‘I am sick.’ ”
In the meantime, don’t give up on changing the culture. Richard Ellenbogen, who chairs the department of neurosurgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine and is another member of the league’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, remembers giving a presentation to the NFL competition committee a year ago when he was interrupted.
“Hey, Doc, great idea — you need to standardize things,” said John Madden, the former coach and popular broadcaster. “But you haven’t gone far enough. You need to put players in a quiet room. There’s too much screaming on the field. And if a guy doesn’t pass, I want his helmet taken away.”
Three months after they spoke at the combine, Madden was on a conference call with Ellenbogen regarding the league’s concussion policy and its culture change, expressing regret for generations of coaches and players.
“But that was the kind of thinking: don’t hurt your ankle, don’t hurt your knee where you can’t run, or don’t hurt your shoulder where you can’t tackle, but your head? Heck, that’ll clear up in a couple minutes and you’ll be okay,” Madden said. “But we were all that way. When I went into broadcasting, I still had that. . . . I probably said a lot of dumb things as a broadcaster. And if I were to do either one of them over again, I wouldn’t do it again.”
Perhaps in the ultimate nod toward the issue, players in the Madden ’12 video game sometimes suffer concussions. Unlike McCoy on that night in Pittsburgh, concussed players in the video game are unable to return to the field.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.