The NFL and its players union are launching separate probes into the Carolina Panthers’ compliance with concussion protocol after star quarterback Cam Newton took a blow to the head late in Thursday night’s kickoff game against the Denver Broncos.
Under a new policy jointly announced in July, Panthers could face discipline from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell if it’s found the medical team didn’t follow the protocol. Each side will review its findings and recommend a disciplinary response. If they can’t agree, a third-party arbitrator will conduct a review and issue a report.
The NFL noted in a statement Sunday morning that “initiation of this process does not mean that we have seen any evidence that the Protocol was applied improperly, but simply reflects our obligation to ensure the health and safety of our players.”
The investigation gives both sides the ability to review documents and video and formally interview all involved parties, including the ATC spotters and unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant on hand when Newton took a helmet to the chin from Broncos safety Darian Stewart in the final minute of Thursday’s game.
In a previous statement Friday morning, the league said the UNC and team physician requested video from spotters and reviewed the play while officials sorted out penalties. “They concluded there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal of the player from the game,” that statement said.
Potential punishment for a first violation includes remedial education for team employees or medical personnel involved and a maximum fine of $150,000 against the club. If there are aggravating circumstances, an additional fine of no less than $50,000 can be issued. If the commissioner determines the team failed to follow protocol for competitive reasons, he may require the forfeiture of draft picks and even more fines.
Newton got the Panthers in position for a game-winning field goal attempt, but Graham Gano missed from 50 yards and the Broncos won 21-20.
The union announced on Twitter on Sunday morning it would launch a compliance investigation. Soon after, the league issued its statement, saying it’s committed to proper application of the protocol and will initiate a review of the medical team’s response to ensure it’s being uniformly applied across all teams.
Stewart was flagged on the play, but the penalty was offset by an intentional grounding penalty against Newton. A person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports on Friday the league’s review of officiating determined another helmet-to-helmet hit on Newton should have been flagged, against Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall.
USA TODAY Sports