NFL can do better job following concussion protocols, experts say

San Diego's Brandon Flowers and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles each had concussion symptoms after this hit, but only Flowers was held out of the rest of the game.

Jake Roth/Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

After the questionable handling of multiple player head injuries this season, four leading physicians with ties to the NFL and NFL Players Association informed team medical staffs earlier this week that there can be improvement in how the league’s concussion guidelines are followed.

Their memo, which was obtained by FOX Sports, was written for head team physicians and athletic trainers by Drs. Hunt Batjer, Richard Ellenbogen, Matthew Matava and Thom Mayer. Batjer and Elllenbogen are co-chairs of the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee that was formed to help combat concussions. Matava is the St. Louis Rams team physician and president of the NFL Physicians Society. Mayer is the NFLPA’s medical director.

“We have generally been pleased with the care provided to players who have suffered concussions in both the preseason and during the first part of the regular season,” the memo reads. “That said, there remain occasional examples of where more care can be given to adhering to the relevant protocols. … Each concussion is a serious injury and must be treated conservatively. All concussion symptoms must be taken seriously by medical staffs and players alike.”

The memo, which also reiterates the league’s concussion protocols, comes one week after a head injury suffered by San Diego Chargers safety Jahleel Addae wasn’t properly diagnosed during an Oct. 23 matchup against Denver. Addae was floored on a tackle attempt early in the game and stayed on the field longer than usual. He was then clearly knocked woozy later in the game following another hit that left Addae’s knees buckling as he stumbled around.

Addae, though, did not leave the field for evaluation after either play. Chargers head coach Mike McCoy announced the next day that Addae had suffered a concussion.

Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker and Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown also have drawn attention for continuing to play after stiff blows to the head. The way their situations were handled has raised questions about whether the NFL’s concussion testing is truly effective.

Charles told ESPN Radio that he hid concussion-like symptoms from the team’s medical staff to continue playing earlier this month against San Diego. In the plays following a helmet-to-helmet collision with Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers, Charles said that “I was seeing light bulbs around my eyes, and I was trying to catch them.

“But I was in the game so I was like, ‘Alright, let’s get the ball and run again.’ ”

The Chiefs said Charles tested negative for a concussion on the sideline during the game and in the days that followed. Flowers was diagnosed with a concussion and wasn’t cleared to practice until today. Like Charles, Brown and Locker also were allowed to return after being tested for concussions despite suffering significant blows to their helmets.

The memo states the NFL and NFLPA are “aware of reports that players may not always report their symptoms and may seek to avoid being examined for a possible concussion.”

“Please remind your players of the need to be candid with the medical staffs and with each other,” the memo reads. “In this respect, you should emphasize that the NFLPA supports the concussion protocol and that players should never hide, deny or attempt to minimize their symptoms.

“That said, concussed players by definition have a brain injury so close attention to mechanism of injury and subtle findings is necessary as well as input from their fellow players who may note subtle differences in performance or behavior.”

The NFL has taken significant steps working toward better prevention and diagnosis of head trauma not only in its own league but in football at all levels. Such initiatives came as the league faced mounting criticism about the mishandling or ignoring of head trauma suffered by former players and the aftereffects now being felt later in life.

The NFL is in the process of settling a lawsuit filed by more than 4,500 of those former players that could result in compensatory payments totaling more than $1 billion.