You've probably heard more than you care to about the causes of football concussions, the NFL's increasingly detailed diagnosis process and its treatment protocol. Independent neurologists are on the sideline during games this season, for instance, and players must be taken to the locker room to undergo tests at any sign of concussion symptoms.
While those steps are helpful and important, there is still ample evidence of the remaining gray area in this issue.
I've covered two games so far in 2013, and in both, an individual has played while concussed. (Or, in one case, played while claiming to have hidden a concussion.) Pittsburgh Steelers running back Isaac Redman returned to a Sept. 16 game after being cleared of a possible head injury, and Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor remained in last Monday night's game for two plays after a brutal hit that was later determined to have caused a concussion.
Let's walk through both issues and then I'll offer a few thoughts.
Redman was slow to get up on the opening kickoff in Week 2 at Paul Brown Stadium. He was taken to the locker room to be evaluated for a head injury, was cleared and returned to the game. He played 19 snaps, carrying on three of them and also catching two touchdowns, and finished the game.
I was among the reporters who interviewed Redman afterwards after the game. He spoke of being "embarrassed" by the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, among other topics, and never once did I think, "Wow, this guy seems hazy."
This week, however, Redman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he in fact had suffered a concussion and "was pretty much out of it the rest of the game." Asked how he had beat the concussion tests in the locker room, Redman said: "I said I was alright."
In a statement, the Steelers detailed their evaluation process:
"Isaac was taken out of the game, and we announced that he was being evaluated for a concussion. He was then taken through the proper protocol by our medical staff and it was deemed he was cleared to return to action after multiple examinations. He then re-entered the game and saw action shortly thereafter and throughout the rest of the game."
Meanwhile, last Monday night, we all saw Pryor absorb a crushing hit from Denver Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard late in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Stadium. Pryor remained face down for a moment, and during an ensuing review to determine whether he fumbled, he wandered the field as if trying to collect himself.
Officials determined that the Raiders would maintain possession. Pyror returned to the huddle and threw a third-down pass to receiver Rod Streater. As the Raiders huddled for a fourth down play, Pryor turned and looked at the sideline as if he couldn't hear the call. The Raiders called timeout, Pryor walked to the sideline to get the play, and then returned to throw an incomplete pass.
Pryor didn't play again, the next day he tweeted: "Sorry about the loss RaiderNation. I don't remember much ! Good hit by whoever it was. I heard our team fought well .. We will be back!"
I'm not looking to assign blame here. Concussions don't always look the same and they descend at different paces. I don't think we want to get to the point where every hard hit leads to a player getting tested in the locker room during a game.
And despite warnings from the league, the NFL Players Association and independent doctors, we should probably expect at least some players to try to play through them. The process is better, no doubt, but it's not perfect and never will be.