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What Does the NFL Do When a Player Gets a Serious Concussion?

Published on Aug 20, 2019 by Thomas Law Offices.

It’s no secret that football can be a dangerous sport. Because of this, the NFL has taken steps to ensure any player with a concussion is tended to as quickly as possible. This is done to prevent further brain injury. Over the years, a number of modifications have been made to their medical emergency protocols. These protocols reflect the most up-to-date medical consensus on the identification, diagnosis, and treatment of a head injury.

How the NFL Identifies Players with Concussions

When a game is happening, there are people whose job it is to watch the players and look for signs of concussions or other medical issues. They are called spotters. There are a number of observable symptoms used to identify if a player has a potential concussion. The signs include loss of consciousness, being slow to get up following a hit to the head, motor coordination or balance problems, a blank or vacant look, disorientation, clutching of the head after contact, or a visible facial injury. When a spotter or other medical personnel sees any of those signs, the concussion protocol goes into effect.

What Happens When a Player has a Concussion?

In order to reduce the risk of complications with untreated or repeated concussions, the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee developed the NFL Game Day Concussion Diagnosis and Management Protocol. This system establishes what a player is supposed to do if they’ve been hit hard enough to warrant a concussion and what they have to do to be cleared to play if they are officially diagnosed with one.

Concussion Protocol

The NFL Game Day Concussion Protocol was first implemented in 2009. It’s been adjusted over the years to ensure the safety of players to penalize teams that do not adhere to the rules. There are five steps to the concussion protocol:

  1. If a player is thought to have a potential concussion, they must be removed from the field immediately.
  2. The NFL Team physician and the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant will review a video of the play where the player was struck and perform a focused neurological exam.
  3. If there is suspicion of a concussion, the player will be escorted to the locker room for a full assessment. This is referred to as the Madden Rule.
  4. If, after the assessment, the player is diagnosed with a concussion, they are not allowed to return to play on the same day.
  5. If the player passes the exam, they will be monitored for signs of a concussion throughout the rest of the game.

Return to Play Process

There is also a five-step Return to Participation protocol that can keep a player off the field for more games or practices until they are cleared. There is no set timeline for a full return from a concussion, and it’s crucial teams abide by these steps after an injury:

  1. Rest and recovery. Only limited stretching and balance activities are allowed until the player returns to the baseline level of signs and symptoms of a neurological exam. They are discouraged from using electronics, engaging on social media, or attending team meetings.
  2. Light aerobic exercises. It’s recommended that concussed players exercise for 10 to 20 minutes on a stationary bike or treadmill without weight training or resistance. An athletic trainer will monitor cardiovascular activity to determine if recurrent concussion signs are present.
  3. Continued aerobic exercise and introduction of strength training. As the athlete improves, they can increase the duration and intensity of their aerobic exercises. Strength training can be incorporated. An athletic trainer will continue monitoring the athlete.
  4. Football specific activities. Players can participate in non-contact activities during a typical full practice.
  5. Full football activity/clearance. When this step is reached, the player can return to full participation, including contact without restriction.

If a team or coach neglects to abide by these protocols and a player is injured as a result, the victim can pursue compensation against the liable party.

Taking Legal Action for a Brain Injury 

When a football player or other athlete sustains repeated concussions, they could suffer from other brain injuries as a result. When this happens, it’s important for the victim to know that legal action can be taken to cover the cost of treatments and lifestyle changes. Often times, repeated concussions with improper treatment is a sign that the sports team or league isn’t prioritizing the safety of their player or is neglecting to follow medical protocols.

If you’ve suffered from a brain injury you believe should have been prevented, Thomas Law Offices is here for you. We’ll review your circumstances and determine if filing a personal injury claim is right for you. Contact our office to learn more.

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Tad Thomas - Trial Lawyer

Tad Thomas

Managing Partner

Tad Thomas has dedicated his practice to representing plaintiffs in various types of civil litigation, including personal injury, business litigation, class actions, and multi-district litigation.

After graduating with his law degree in 2000 from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, Mr. Thomas immediately opened his own private practice and began representing injury victims.

In 2011, Thomas Law Offices was established in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the past decade, Mr. Thomas has expanded his firm and now has offices in three additional locations: Cincinnati, Ohio, Columbia, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois. He is also a frequent lecturer on topics like trial skills and ethics and technology.

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