Harrison one piece of concussion flap

Brian Billick on the Cleveland Browns' approach to Colt McCoy
Brian Billick on the Cleveland Browns' approach to Colt McCoy
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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.



A one-game suspension for a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit? James Harrison should be ecstatic. FOX Sports Ohio

Let’s start this concussion discussion with what the Cleveland Browns have done right.

Until the Colt McCoy controversy, the team’s medical staff had a solid track record for dealing with players who suffered head injuries. Concussions were diagnosed quickly and properly. The Browns were so cautious in treatment that one concussed player was held out an extra game earlier this season even though he had passed tests that cleared his return, a source told

Now, on to what the Browns did wrong.

They allowed McCoy to continue playing in last Thursday’s 14-3 loss to Pittsburgh despite his addled state being apparent to everyone except the Browns themselves. ESPN has reported that McCoy wasn’t given a sideline concussion test as per league guidelines. Browns trainers were more concerned about checking McCoy’s injured hand than his head before sending him back into the game.

But the failings go beyond Browns trainer Joe Sheehan and his staff. Other members of the franchise, the NFL and McCoy himself also deserve some of the blame for placing him in peril.

First and foremost, Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison is the one who delivered the blow. Harrison paid for his latest transgression Tuesday morning with a one-game NFL suspension.

Whether such punishment was justified is debatable. Harrison has said he was simply trying to tackle a scrambling quarterback and didn’t intend to initiate the kind of helmet-to-helmet contact that left McCoy flattened on the Heinz Field turf. In a high-speed game like football, especially at the professional level, accidents will happen.

Harrison, though, has a history of outlawed shots to the head. The NFL announced Harrison’s suspension stemmed from five illegal strikes on quarterbacks within the past three seasons. Maybe the latest sanctions — which will cost Harrison a $73,529 game check and hurt Pittsburgh’s chances of winning Monday night in San Francisco — will finally convince him to lower his aiming point when trying to tackle.

Then again, maybe not. Harrison sent out a Tweet proclaiming “Lol!!!” (i.e. laugh out loud) soon after his suspension was announced.

Regardless, such ignorance doesn’t get others off the hook for what transpired in the aftermath of Harrison’s hit. In his defense, the Steelers LB did return to Twitter later and addressed the public.

"Thank you to all my fans and supporters, I'm just going to move on from here and get ready for my next game," Harrison tweeted.

Players are asked to police themselves if it appears one of their brethren has suffered an undetected head injury. At least one of the other Browns in the huddle with McCoy should have said something to the training staff. It’s impossible to believe nobody recognized McCoy wasn’t right.

The NFL has also asked game officials to monitor players following a near disaster involving San Diego guard Kris Dielman earlier this season. A woozy Dielman was allowed to continue playing after a concussion against the New York Jets. Dielman then suffered a seizure on the team’s flight home and is now out for the rest of the season. There’s no way of knowing if he now has permanent — and preventable — brain damage.

Ed Hochuli’s officiating crew erred when not spotting that McCoy was glassy-eyed like the video cameras captured during the game telecast. So did the NFL “observer” who is specifically assigned by the league to call the sideline if there is a hint of an undiagnosed head injury.

“He was basically out (cold) after the hit,” McCoy’s father Brad told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “You could tell by the rigidity of his body as he was laying there. There were a lot of easy symptoms that should’ve told them he had a concussion.”

Colt McCoy is culpable, too, because he didn’t tell trainers that something was potentially amiss.

All of this shows the league’s concussion protocol still needs work. Players continue to slip through the cracks even with all the measures being taken to address an issue that is affecting scores of NFL alumni who didn’t receive proper care during their gridiron careers.

Here’s what should be the league’s next proactive step: Subject those who don’t fulfill their end of the monitoring process to discipline.

Fine or suspend members of team training staffs who allow players like McCoy and Dielman to remain on the field without concussion testing.

Hire NFL “observers” who are paying attention to the game closely enough to call the sideline when needed.

Add concussion detection to the criteria that the league uses when grading its officials on a weekly basis. Crews for the playoffs and Super Bowl — as well as the prestige and extra money affiliated with such an honor — are determined by officials who score the highest during the regular season.

Basically, make it a headache for those who fail at helping to handle this problem. That should greatly reduce the odds of another McCoy situation from happening again.

It’s a no-brainer.

Tagged: Browns, Steelers, Chargers, James Harrison, Kris Dielman, Colt McCoy

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