Thank goodness the Seattle Seahawks teach tacklers to lead with their shoulder, or else Matt Moore may have really gotten hurt Sunday afternoon.
It’s a good thing scientists at the University of Tennessee are working on absorbent artificial turf, or else the Miami Dolphins quarterback might have been playing a dangerous sport when a projectile named Bud Dupree flattened him, the crown of helmet square on Moore’s chinstrap.
And luckily for Moore, technology on National Football League sidelines allows medical spotters to stop games and review hard collisions immediately, or else Moore might have played with a concussion in a playoff game.
Now, aren’t all of those statement pleasant fictions? They are brought to you by the NFL, in an ad campaign with the tagline “The future of football.” It intends to prove the sport is becoming safer, aimed at fans queasy about the damage done to performers and at nervous parents considering whether their sons should play football.
The way to make football safe is to not play. Anyone who watched Dupree slam into Moore could tell you that. It looked like a Mini Cooper running a man over. Those hits are not as insidious, and maybe not as dangerous, as the sub-concussive blows linemen deliver one another play after play. But they offer the NFL an easy chance to prove it prioritizes the health of its players, and that it can take at least some precautions in the most obvious cases.
The NFL’s concussion protocol has prevented some players from participating with concussions. On Sunday, the inescapable conclusion is that it failed to protect Moore. Dupree obliterated him, a helmet-to-chin blow, clear enough for an official to throw his flag without hesitation. Moore laid on the turf as trainers tended to him for several minutes. He walked to the bench. A team doctor looked into his eyes and apparently asked him questions.
And the Moore put his helmet back on. The Dolphins ran one play, a handoff from backup T.J. Yates, and Moore trotted back onto the field.
While Moore was on the bench, an unaffiliated neurological consultant and Miami’s team physician both evaluated Moore and cleared him to return, a Dolphins spokesman said.
But one play is simply not enough time to determine whether a player has suffered concussion. After such an obviously violent collision, Moore should have been taken to the locker room for a a broader battery of tests. Symptoms can sometimes surface in the minutes after the damage occurs. Maybe Moore did not suffer a brain injury — it’s wrong to play doctor from the couch. But in the minute or so Moore sat on the sideline, the Dolphins and independent medical officials had no chance of determining whether Moore was concussed or not.
“We review the administration of protocols after games,” an NFL spokesman said.
Moore’s brief removal fit into the NFL’s record. In crucial situations and for quarterbacks, teams or medical officials seem to relax or ignore concussion protocol. Ben Roethlisberger in the playoffs two years ago. Case Keenum last year in the final seconds of a comeback attempt. Cam Newton in this year’s season opener during a two-minute drill. And now Moore. They all showed enough symptoms, or suffered a vicious enough hit, to be removed and administered a full battery of tests. They were not.
“Playoff priorities!” tweeted Chris Nowinski, the CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “Miami QB Moore crushed helmet-to-chin, can’t stand for [two] minutes, missed one play.” Later, Nowinski added Moore “should have been tested in the locker room.”
Playoff priorities! Miami QB Moore crushed helmet-to-chin, can't stand for 2 minutes, missed one play…watch here: https://t.co/9s10s9umi7
— Chris Nowinski (@ChrisNowinski1) January 8, 2017
Players are not going to protect themselves. CBS’s sideline reporter noted that Moore told medical personnel he felt able to play. His willingness to return to the field so quickly illustrates the difference between NFL players and the rest of us. The thrill and urgency of competition, along with an uncommon lack of fear, draws them back. Those urges are unconquerable. The procedures in place are fully responsible.
At halftime, another “future of football” commercial ran. It detailed how the NFL tests cleat patterns for how they affect impact on the turf, and it shares the information with shoe companies to help players make smart choices.
The right pair of shoes is not going to protect Moore’s brain. Nothing except not playing football at all could do that. The NFL’s protocol should at least mitigate Moore’s risk in the most obvious moments. Sunday afternoon, it failed him.