Having completed the investigation into the handling of Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage’s concussion in Week 14, the NFL and NFLPA announced Friday that the team will not face discipline.
The Texans’ medical staff followed proper concussion protocol, the league and players union said in a joint statement. However, “the outcome was unacceptable and therefore further improvements in the Protocol are necessary.”
Savage sustained the concussion during a hit in the team’s loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
Shortly after the hit, replay from television footage showed Savage twitching as he lay on the ground. He eventually was helped to the sideline, and was checked for a concussion before being allowed to re-enter the game. A few minutes later, however, coach Bill O’Brien asked the medical team to check Savage a second time. He then was deemed to have suffered a concussion.
The NFL and NFL Players Association’s statement said at that time, “The Texans' medical staff continued to monitor Mr. Savage after the initial evaluation and shortly after his return to the game, identified symptoms that had not been present during the sideline evaluation and took him to the locker room for further evaluation.
“The NFL and NFLPA recognize that Mr. Savage's return to the game did not reflect the expected outcome of the Protocol,” the statement continued. “As such, the parties have agreed that no discipline will be assessed, but have already implemented several improvements to the Protocol to prevent such an unacceptable outcome in the future.”
The league and union, working with the NFL's independent Head, Neck and Spine Committee, plan to implement the following changes:
The implementation of Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant (UNC) based at the league office to monitor broadcast feeds of all games. The consultant will contact each team’s medical staff if additional signs or symptoms are identified.
The league also plans to prohibit any player who displays seizure or fencing responses from returning to games, as Savage was after passing his initial tests.
Each player who demonstrates significant instability (stumbling or falling to the ground or struggling to maintain balance while trying to stand) must undergo locker room concussion evaluation, rather than simply being checked on the sideline.
Officials, teammates and coaching staffs have been instructed to take players who have suffered possible concussions directly to a member of the medical team for evaluation.
The improvements to the protocol also include the addition of a third UNC to all playoff games and to the Super Bowl. This third member will provide an extra set of eyes in the event that one of the first two consultants is occupied checking other injured players.
The NFL, NFLPA and the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee will also conduct more offseason reviews of the protocol to seek additional improvements in detection and diagnosis.
More than 500 players have been checked for concussions this season, but only the Seattle Seahawks' handling of Russell Wilson and the Texans’ handling of Savage were investigated. The Seahawks were deemed to have failed to follow protocol as they let Wilson return to the game before he was checked for a concussion. In addition to having to go through additional training, the Seahawks were fined $100,000.
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