Commentary: Spotting a concussion isn't brain surgery

PHILADELPHIA — A thousand pardons. For the game plan, for the execution, for the ever-present "Not putting the guys in the right places" to succeed during Sunday's 27-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Andy Reid issued his familiar post-loss mea culpas Monday, vowing to "tighten up" special teams play, execution particularly on offense, and even his play-calling.

The only thing he didn't apologize for was how, or why, two of his stars were allowed to re-enter the game after getting concussed Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field.

That's because in his mind, and apparently in the minds of too many still involved in the NFL, he and his medical staff did what it was supposed to do in the cases of Stewart Bradley and Kevin Kolb. Asked all the right questions, got all the right answers, sent both back into a game even after both had displayed, for a national audience to see, evidence of head trauma.

To wit:

Kolb lying face down for several seconds before rising slowly, grass hanging from his face mask, walking slowly from the field;

Bradley bouncing up after an inadvertent knee-to-helmet hit, only to stumble back down to the ground, clearly disoriented.

That's a key word, disoriented. It's used in those famous updated guidelines the NFL issued last December to teams regarding concussions in the wake of congressional hearings and some high-profile injuries, including the repeated concussions to former Eagle Brian Westbrook.

"A player who suffers a concussion should not return to play or practice on the same day," said an NFL release on those guidelines, which lists among symptoms "Loss of consciousness" and "Confusion as evidenced by disorientation to person, time or place; inability to respond appropriately to questions; or inability to remember assignments or plays."

So what are we missing here? Reid said appropriate answers were given to questions. He said Kolb's inability to remember plays was only evident after he returned to play, and he was yanked after a three-and-out series. But both men were clearly disoriented when they first reached their feet.

Speaking to The New York Times when the guidelines were first released, Dr. Joseph Maroon, a neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers, said, "There has to be some discretion for medical professionals. There's a difference between a fever of 99 that goes away and a fever of 105. I don't think we're going to take the occasional minor fever out of football. On every play, there are traumatic experiences to the head. The question is one of degree."

Translation: It's a concussion if we say it is.

Otherwise, play on.

"Listen, we followed the protocol, that's what we did," Reid said Sunday. It was only last year the Eagles allowed Westbrook to play three weeks after suffering a major concussion, and after he suffered another, confessed that he had never fully recovered.

A few hours after Reid spoke, the medical director of the NFL Players Association, as well as the co-chairman of the NFL's Brain, Head and Neck Medical Committee, also said the guidelines from last December were followed.

But all that tells me is the procedure needs some serious tweaking, starting with Maroon's rather convenient fever metaphor. Yes, there are traumatic experiences to the head on just about every play, just as there are cuts and bruises incurred on every play.

But no one sent Leonard Weaver out after his left leg folded over itself. No one told Jamaal Jackson to suck it up and go out there with a ripped triceps. Yeah, brains are a tricky thing and sometimes big trauma isn't so clear cut. But when one guy falls to the ground like Joe Frazier against George Foreman and another doesn't seem to know there's grass hanging from his helmet, well, those seem like big clues that something is wrong. And if the NFL wants us and Congress to take its revised protocol seriously, it'll tighten up the language and loopholes that allowed Bradley and Kolb to play with concussions on Sunday. That's not just good sense. It's good business.