NFL, NFLPA join forces to review concussion protocol after Tom Savage injury


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The NFL and the NFL Players Association have agreed to conduct a joint review of whether concussion protocols were followed when Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage was allowed to briefly to return to Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers despite showing signs he had been concussed. 

“Together, we will conduct a thorough review of the incident and will focus on whether the protocol was properly followed,” NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart told reporters on a conference call Monday. “We will also continue to look at the protocol to improve and strengthen it. Any information developed in this investigation or any review that can strengthen the protocol will be enacted on an expeditious basis in conjunction with the NFLPA.”

Earlier Monday, the NFLPA said it was “initiating a full review of the incident.”

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Lockhart said the league would “withhold further comment” on whether the protocol was followed by medical and team personnel tasked at identifying and monitoring potentially concussed players until the investigation is completed.   

Savage’s arms trembled as he lay on the turf for several seconds after he was hit by the 49ers’ Elvis Dumervil, which came on a third down. Savage was allowed to re-enter the game on the Texans’ next possession after he was evaluated — a three-and-out — before he was ruled out of the game with a concussion. 

The NFL has a series of safeguards in place, which have been bolstered in recent years amid growing concerns over traumatic brain injuries thought to contribute to the debilitating brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — found in the brains of 111 of 112 deceased NFL players by researchers. 

At each NFL game, there are two unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants (one on each sideline), along with two certified athletic trainer (ATC) spotters in the booth tasked at identifying concussed players. Each team’s medical personnel are also involved with identifying and evaluating possibly concussed players. 

The ATC spotters, who have access to the game’s live video feed and are able to replay plays where a player may have been concussed, have the authority to radio game officials for a stoppage. They can also contact the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants to make sure a player is evaluated. 

Sunday’s incident is the latest to call the league’s concussion protocol system into question this season.

The league had already faced heavy criticism on how it handled concussions sustained by New Orleans Saints tight end Coby Fleener and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who were allowed to continue to play despite eventually receiving a concussion diagnosis. 

“I believe very strongly that the protocol is part of our overall effort on our health and safety,” Lockhart said. “I do understand that it is our obligation to look at where the protocol may not have been followed and just as importantly where it can be improved. It’s an ongoing effort.”

Lockhart said the league was still reviewing whether the Seattle Seahawks followed concussion protocol when quarterback Russell Wilson only missed one play in a Nov. 9 game. Wilson went into the team’s medical tent for mere seconds before he returned to the game. 

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