I’m not a Cam Newton fan. His safety has never been my top concern while watching the Panthers play. But I’m also the mother of a football player who is still recovering from a pair of concussions she received nearly a year ago. After what my daughter has been through, I know the NFL set a dangerous precedent when it left Newton in the game Thursday night.
During the matchup between the Panthers and the Denver Broncos, Newton sustained multiple brutal hits to the head. It seemed clear to me and many of the other people watching that these head shots were purposeful and targeted; at least one was a savage helmet-to-helmet hit that resulted in a personal foul call against the Broncos in the final minutes of the game. But at no point was Newton pulled off the field and evaluated for a concussion.
Football is a dangerous game. Everyone knows that. But the NFL has strict rules about head injuries and has even implemented independent “concussion spotters” to help them identify potential concussion symptoms using video playback during the game. Yet even though Newton was slow to get up and exhibited some signs of disorientation after taking multiple hits to the head, he was never pulled out of the game and evaluated for a concussion on the sidelines.
Only one of the four hits Newton took to the head was flagged by the independent concussion spotting team for review, but after reviewing the video they decided his symptoms on the video didn’t merit further investigation. At no time was Newton himself evaluated by a trained professional for a concussion during the game.
The NFL has already defended its decision not to perform a concussion evaluation on Newton. After the game, during interviews, Newton mentioned that he had been “asked some questions,” seemingly as part of a concussion evaluation, but he said he didn’t remember what he was asked. “I don’t know, there’s too much going through my head right now for me to remember that,” Newton told reporters after the game.
This is a dangerous precedent for a league already beset by problems. Diagnosed concussions increased by 32 percent in 2015, with 271 concussions diagnosed from training camp through the end of post-season play. The vast majority of these concussions, 234, occurred during games. The No. 1 cause of these concussions was contact with another player’s helmet.
Concussions are often dismissed as minor injuries. In reality, they are traumatic brain injuries, and their effects commonly last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. In my daughter’s case, even one year later, her cognitive function, balance, and memory haven’t returned to baseline. As we are sent from specialist to specialist, they remind us that some people never fully recover.
The risk is even greater in the first 30 days after a concussion. Players are more likely to re-injure themselves and suffer subsequent concussions. In some cases, called Second Impact Syndrome, these subsequent concussions can be fatal. In Newton’s case, he’ll be heading back on the field this week.
When the NFL allows athletes like Newton to remain in the game, it sends the message to high school and college athletes that they need to “power through” a possible concussion, too. It encourages them to ignore concerning symptoms, and it sets a similar example for coaches and training staff across the country.
When my daughter goes to each of her concussion specialists, she asks them to clear her for game play. Each time, they remind her that clearance could kill her; each time, she tells them that she’ll be okay, she’ll just power through the pain.
If it’s good enough for the NFL, it should be good enough for our kids. But instead of teaching kids how to play the game safely, and to take important and necessary precautions, the NFL’s flagrant disregard for Newton’s safety is teaching kids to put themselves at risk for the sake of the game.
No game is worth Newton’s life or my daughter’s life—or their balance, memory, or cognitive function. If the NFL can’t follow their own rules, they have no business playing the game.