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NFL, NFLPA investigating handling of Tom Savage’s concussion

Tom Savage is taken to the locker room Sunday. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)
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The NFL and the NFL Players Association said Monday they are investigating the incident Sunday in which Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage was allowed to re-enter a game after absorbing a hit that left him on the turf with his hands twitching.

The league and NFLPA have a policy by which they jointly investigate any potential violations of the sport’s concussion protocols and determine whether they believe a violation occurred. The NFL can impose discipline for any violations, if the league believes that is warranted.

“We have initiated a joint investigation along with the NFLPA on this incident,” Joe Lockhart, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs, said in a conference call with reporters. “Together we’ll conduct a thorough review of the incident focused on whether the protocol was properly followed. We’re also continuing looking at the protocol to look for ways to improve and strengthen it. Any information developed in this investigation or in any review of the game and protocol that can strengthen the protocol will be enacted on an expeditious basis in coordination with the NFLPA.”

The union announced earlier Monday that it was looking into the matter.

“We are initiating a full review of the Tom Savage concussion from yesterday’s game,” George Atallah, the union’s assistant executive director of external affairs, said on Twitter.

During a loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Savage was hit by the Niners’ Elvis Dumervil as he threw a pass. Savage’s hands were seen shaking as he was on the ground. He was sent to the sideline and was examined in the medical tent there, reportedly for about three minutes. According to the Texans, Savage was cleared by the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant to re-enter the game. He played one more series before being taken to the locker room, and later was ruled out of the game with a concussion.

Lockhart declined to discuss details of the situation.

“I think we’re going to wait until we’ve had a chance to coordinate with the NFLPA and talk to all of the people involved in the incident, everyone from the referee to the spotters to the UNCs to the team physicians, head coach, player, whoever is relevant to this discussion, before we reach any conclusions,” Lockhart said. “That work started [Sunday] afternoon and has continued into this morning. But I think we’ll withhold further comment until we’ve had a chance to conduct the review.”

Chris Nowinski, the founding CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, wrote Sunday on Twitter that he was “disgusted” with the Texans for allowing Savage to return to the game with “horrifying” concussion signs. Nowinski also wrote: “I would not let my worst enemy go through the 2017 NFL sideline concussion protocol.”

Lockhart defended the league’s procedures for identifying concussions suffered by players and attempting to ensure those players are removed from games.

“We believe very strongly that the protocol is an important part of our overall effort on protecting our players’ health and safety,” he said. “But we do understand that it is our obligation to look at where the protocol may not have been followed, and just as importantly to see where the protocol can be improved. That’s an ongoing effort. It’s ongoing through the season, in the offseason. And it’s our commitment to make sure the protocol is as strong as it can be.”

It’s not clear how long the investigation will take. Lockhart said Monday he expects an announcement in the “next day or so” about the outcome of the investigation into the Seattle Seahawks’ compliance with the concussion protocols with quarterback Russell Wilson during a Nov. 9 game.

Under the joint enforcement procedures announced last year by the league and union, each appoints a representative to monitor compliance with the concussion evaluation and treatment procedures and to investigate possible violations. If there is disagreement over whether a violation occurred, a third-party arbitrator is brought in to issue a report.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is in charge of any discipline for violations. A team can be fined as much as $150,000 for a first offense. There is a minimum fine of $100,000 for any subsequent violations, and a minimum fine of $50,000 for a case in which the parties agree that a violation involved circumstances which must be taken into consideration.

Heftier fines and the loss of a draft choice or choices are possible, the league and union said at the time, if it’s determined a team violated the concussion protocols for competitive reasons.

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