I’ve managed to wean myself off the Chiefs, for the most part, but while on the Internet looking for news developments Sunday, a football-related headline on The Star’s website caught my eye.
It said something about Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith having taken a hard hit to the head in the first half of the game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Although I’ve pretty much given up watching the Chiefs, mainly because of the high incidence of long-term brain injury from repeated head poundings, I turned on the TV a few minutes later to see who would be substituting for Smith.
To my surprise and wonderment, none other than Alex Smith was still quarterbacking the team. I didn’t understand…Hadn’t he taken a hard shot to the head? Shouldn’t he be out of the game?
It was near the end of the first half, and the announcers weren’t talking about a hit to the head, so I turned off the TV and didn’t think anything more about it.
Later, I learned that he had taken a second hard hit to the head, and that time they took him out of the game for good.
The line the Chiefs put out later was Smith had passed the “concussion protocol” test, administered by physicians on the sideline, and had been cleared for return to play.
But there was great confusion after the game about whether Smith had passed one or both concussion tests. In his post-game news conference, Coach Andy Reid said Smith had passed both tests, theoretically making him eligible to return after the second hard hit. But a Chiefs’ official corrected him, advising him Smith had failed the second test. Today, however, the Chiefs said that Smith had, indeed, passed the second test, although he didn’t return to the game.
What a disaster.
This is a quarterback getting paid $17 million a year, and they put him back in the game after a hard hit to the head that left him woozy. I didn’t see either hit, but the second one must have been a doozy. The centerpiece photo in The Star’s sports section on Monday shows Smith lying flat on his back, his right hand slightly elevated and limp, while a trainer holds his head and talks to him. I don’t think Alex was hearing much, though, because, looking at the picture, you could clearly see his eyeballs had rolled up under his eyelids. It was the classic image of a guy who was totally out of it.
In his post-game column, The Star’s Sam Mellinger lambasted the NFL for its hazy and sloppy concussion protocol. He said, in part…
But if the league is wondering why it’s losing so many casual fans, it might look at a system it admits is broken, is avoided by some players and deemed suspicious by others, in no small part because it sometimes means a quarterback we all suspect has a concussion is being allowed to play until taking another hit we all know damn well caused a concussion.
That’s fine, but Mellinger missed the mark by, oh, about 100 yards. Here’s why…
At a news conference Monday, Andy Reid tried to wash his hands of responsibility. “Experts,” he said, make the determination on whether a player has suffered a concussion, and if the experts clear a man to play, then back in the game he goes. “They’ve taken the coach out of it,” Reid said.
Oh, really? Well, that’s not my understanding of football…I don’t care how many people tell a coach a player “passed” the protocol, the final determination — the judgment that matters most — lies with the coach. He’s responsible for everything that takes place on the field and on the sidelines during the game. He’s the person ultimately responsible for making sure that a player, once injured, does not get injured more severely.
It’s elemental. But what I heard was Reid sloughing off the questions in a clipped and casual manner and failing to take responsibility. And Mellinger? Well, it’s a lot easier for a sports columnist to blame the league than the head coach, whose cooperation and access he needs week in and week out.
The NFL concussion protocol may be faulty, but Mellinger put the brunt of the blame on the wrong party: It was Andy Reid who failed Alex Smith.
Finally, although he supposedly passed both concussion tests, I bet Alex Smith will not be playing when the Chiefs take the field Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They’ll say they’re keeping him out as a “precaution.”
Well, that’s exactly what Andy Reid should have done Sunday. These head hits are a serious business, and Reid should not be sloughing them off like irritating questions at a news conference.