In Thursday’s game against the Cardinals, Russell Wilson made arguably the play of the NFL season. The Seahawks quarterback showed off his impressive combination of legs and arm by scampering backward and away from a pair of Arizona defenders to an almost ludicrous degree, then rifling a 20-yard pass toward the sideline that found a leaping Doug Baldwin, who took it about 45 more yards and nearly into the end zone.
It was truly an incredible play, one that figures to appear on NFL highlight reels for years to come. However, shortly before that fourth-quarter magic, Wilson was involved in a sequence that the league would likely prefer everyone forget about as soon as possible.
In the third quarter, Wilson took a hard hit from Arizona’s Karlos Dansby, one in which the crown of the linebacker’s helmet made contact with the quarterback’s jaw. Wilson was told to leave the field by referee Walt Anderson, and after expressing some objections, he trotted to the sideline.
While Seattle’s backup quarterback, Austin Davis, took over, Wilson was ushered to the sideline medical tent, where he would be checked for a possible concussion. Except … that didn’t happen.
No sooner had the tent been pulled up over Wilson than he left it, brusquely pushing the flaps aside while appearing to insist that he was fine. Moments later, he was back on the field, in a sequence caught by NBC’s cameras and shown to a national audience.
Wilson was not back on the field for long before the Seahawks punted, at which point he returned to the sideline and appeared to spend a longer period of time in the medical tent. However, the manner in which he initially rushed back to play should draw scrutiny, and possibly even a fine for the team, from league headquarters.
The NFL’s concussion protocol calls for a player suspected of having suffered one during a game to be checked by medical personnel, and not allowed back into the contest until he has been cleared. That did not occur with Wilson, at least not initially, and one can only hope that his concussion check was not cut short simply because he proclaimed himself 100 percent.
It’s possible that Wilson and the Seahawks skirted the protocol because he had not been flagged for a possible concussion by one of the physicians or trainers required at every NFL game to spot such incidents. According to Dr. David Chao, a physician who writes about sports injuries for the San Diego Union Tribune, Anderson ordered Wilson back for a proper evaluation after the quarterback’s initial return.
Following the game, Wilson reiterated at a news conference that he was “fine,” and he said that the main issue from the hit he took was pain he felt from getting “smacked in the jaw pretty good.” He said that Anderson may have seen him rubbing his jaw while “laying on the ground for a second” and thus thought that was enough reason to send him off the field.
“I think Walt did a great job, he made the smartest decision,” Wilson said. “I was fine, though, 100 percent fine.”
Wilson said he then “finally went through the whole concussion stuff,” including “every question you can imagine.” He chuckled while saying, “I answered even some more for them, just to let everybody know I was good, and then went back in there.”
Chao speculated that the medical staffers might not have known that Wilson had originally been sent for an evaluation and thus weren’t prepared to stop him from running back onto the field. Nevertheless, it was a bad look, if nothing else, for a league that has received enormous criticism for not doing enough to address brain injuries.
In addition, the Wilson episode came on the same day Boston University researchers announced that former NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez, who committed suicide in prison in April, had been afflicted with the most severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy ever discovered in a person his age.
Brain trauma is “an intrinsic component of football,” one of the researchers, Ann McKee, said in announcing the results of the examination of the 27-year-old Hernandez. For the time being, self-reporting of symptoms is still a major component of concussion tests, but Wilson, even if he wasn’t exhibiting obvious symptoms, should not have been allowed to insist he was fine.
The episode was a reminder of one that occurred during the 2015 NFC championship game, when Wilson was leveled by the Packers’ Clay Matthews. The quarterback did not appear to receive a thorough concussion evaluation immediately afterward, and Fox Sports sideline reporter Erin Andrews told viewers that Seahawks physicians talked to Wilson “for all of two seconds.”
The hit Wilson took Thursday was not enough to prevent him from authoring one of the most remarkable plays in recent memory, and from leading Seattle to a 22-16 win. But, as Anderson apparently felt, it should have been more than enough to merit a thorough examination, the first time around, instead of an embarrassing moment for the NFL.
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