Biggs: New concussion policy starts this week

Hines Ward probably would not have come out with some critical remarks regarding teammate Ben Roethlisberger if the new return-to-play guidelines handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday had been in place a week ago.

Well, as ultra-competitive as Ward is, maybe he would have, but the point is the NFL is taken serious steps to promote players safety when it comes to concussions. The new rules governing when a player will be allowed to return from a concussion take effect immediately with a handful of high-profile players dealing with concussions right now. Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner sat out last week like Roethlisberger. Running backs Brian Westbrook and Clinton Portis remained sidelined with concussions. Chicago lost its top cornerback Charles Tillman to a concussion Sunday at Minnesota. Cleveland running back Jamal Lewis was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, the result of post-concussion symptoms.

It’s a real, live issue, and the league has taken quick measures since appearing on Capitol Hill at the end of October before the House Judiciary Committee. The league told teams last month that each club had to secure an independent neurologist to work with them on head injuries.

The new policy states, in part: “Once removed for the duration of a practice or game, the player should not be considered for return-to-football activities until he is fully asymtotic, both at rest and after exertion, has a normal neurological examination, normal neuropsychological testing, and has been cleared to return by both his team physician(s) and the independent neurological consultant.”

“The evidence demonstrates that team medical staffs have been addressing concussions in an increasingly cautious and conservative way,” Goodell wrote. “This new return-to-play statement reinforces our commitment to advancing player safety. Along with improved equipment, better education, and rules changes designed to reduce impacts to the head, it will make our game safer for the men who play it, and set an important example for players at all levels of play.”

Andrew Brandt conducts a podcast on the concussion issue facing the league here, and it’s worth checking out. One of the real concerns for the league moving forward is getting players to come forward and be straight about concussions. As Matt Bowen detailed, he intentionally missed questions on the base line test given in August so that it would be much easier for him to match his score during the season if he’d suffered a concussion. Players don’t want to be pulled off the field.

Goodell is urging players to be forthright. It’s moving in the right direction, and the NFL will be able show Capitol Hill progress if it gets called upon again. The players are the ones who need to buy into the new program most.

Follow me at Twitter: BradBiggs

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