Bears show reality of concussion 'policy'

I apologize if I created any confusion Wednesday by suggesting that the Chicago Bears had tipped their hand on quarterback Jay Cutler's short-term future after allowing him to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. As it turns out, the confusion was caused by believing the NFL's "new" concussion "policy" was actually a policy rather than a set of guidelines that do not have to be followed.

The Bears announced Thursday that Cutler will sit out Sunday's game at the Carolina Panthers because of the concussion he suffered last Sunday night. It's a perfectly reasonable course of action, and I have no evidence that the team has given Cutler anything but the highest level of medical care. Todd Collins will make the start, and we'll have more to say on how the impact of his ascendancy before the end of the week.

But for now, let's recognize an important fact: The NFL's written response to growing concern about the long-term effect on head injuries has no teeth. As we discussed Wednesday, the policy calls for "players to refrain from football activities until after they are fully asymptomatic" and have been "cleared to return by both his team physician(s) and the independent neurological consultant."

This is both for the safety of the player and to prevent teams from allowing players with concussions to be trotted onto the practice field to maintain the illusion that he could play in the next game for competitive advantages. Cutler practiced Wednesday and will continue throughout the week on a limited basis. It's impossible to reconcile a player being "fully asymptomatic" on the one hand but ruled out for the next game on the other. However, an NFL spokesman told the Chicago Tribune that the policy is a "guideline" for individual teams that ultimately make their own medical care decisions.

Again, there are no suggestions here that Cutler has been mistreated. Generally speaking, however, it would be nice if players who have suffered concussions were, as a rule, held out of practice until cleared to play. For anyone with deep concerns about head injuries in this game, it's disappointing to know that the league's most recent response won't have an impact on changing the status quo.