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NFL decides Dolphins violated concussion protocol so league is not to blame

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Wild Card Round - Miami Dolphins v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The NFL and NFL Players Association conducted an investigation into the Miami Dolphins handling of quarterback Matt Moore after a vicious hit from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree during the Playoffs’ Wildcard weekend. Moore was hit in the chin on the play and went to the sideline to be examined. After one snap, Moore returned to the game, leading to questions about the league’s concussion protocol and whether or not the Dolphins properly followed it.

The league’s investigation - which amazingly did not involve Ted Wells - found the Dolphins did not “strictly follow” the protocol and that “future deviation from the protocol may result in enhanced discipline, including monetary fines assessed against the club." Apparently, the NFL/NFLPA investigation found that, since there was blood around Moore’s mouth, the team should have taken Moore back to the locker room for further evaluation.

And that is where this all becomes ridiculous.

Somehow, from their headquarters in New York, the NFL determined that Moore - who did not have a concussion - should have been removed from the game for blood - which did not appear on any of the TV broadcast images - and they know better than the Dolphins doctor.

And their own unaffiliated doctor.

The league mandates that a player under consideration for a concussion must be cleared by both the team doctor and the unaffiliated doctor at the game specifically for this reason. Moore cleared both the team doctor and the unaffiliated doctor, then returned to the game.

And that is where the Dolphins apparently were wrong.

They followed the protocol, and checked to see if Moore was showing any signs of a concussion. He was not.

They had the unaffiliated doctor check more to see if he was showing any signs of a concussion. He was not.

They returned him to the game, because he cleared both the team doctor and the unaffiliated doctor, because he was not showing any signs of a concussion that he did not have.

And, the Dolphins did not follow the right protocol.

The full statement from the league explained:

The NFL and NFLPA have reviewed the application of the Concussion Protocol by the Dolphins’ medical staff in the January 8th Steelers-Dolphins game.

The Miami Dolphins were notified in a letter co-signed by Dr. Hunt Batjer, Co-Chair of the NFL Head, Neck & Spine Committee and Dr. Thom Mayer, Medical Director for the NFLPA, that the NFL-NFLPA review determined that the Protocol was not strictly followed. The letter further advised the Dolphins that they must engage their staff in a full review of the Protocol and conduct additional education, if necessary. The Dolphins were also advised that any future deviation from the Protocol may result in enhanced discipline, including monetary fines assessed against the Club.

In the second quarter, Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore incurred a hit to the chin and mouth area which drew a roughing the passer penalty. Mr. Moore was attended to by medical staff on the field and on the sideline. The team doctor took appropriate steps to promptly and fully involve the Unaffiliated Neuro-trauma Consultant (UNC) in the medical evaluation of the player and review of the video. They jointly cleared Mr. Moore to return to the game, but did not recognize that Mr. Moore presented a documented symptom, bleeding from the mouth, that required further evaluation in the locker room under the protocol. There is no indication that competitive issues had an impact on the care that Mr. Moore received, nor did Mr. Moore demonstrate any concussion symptoms either during or at any time following the game.

It is important for us to ensure everyone understands and follows the Protocol and that we continue to reinforce its importance. The co-chairmen of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee sent a memo to the medical staffs of the clubs participating in the playoffs reminding them of that point.

The objective of the Concussion Protocol is to ensure a standardized process composed of best practices is used to identify and manage potential concussions. Concussion diagnosis and management is often a difficult and complex exercise, compounded by hectic game conditions. Accurate diagnosis and management of concussion requires a collaborative approach among experienced physicians on the sideline, each acutely aware of his or her responsibilities and all committed to the strict application of the protocol designed to protect players.

Again, the league’s unaffiliated doctor, who is on the sideline solely for the purpose of checking for a concussion, cleared Moore and let him back in the game. And, the Dolphins were wrong. Two medically trained personnel, one for the team and one hired by the league, cleared the player, but the league, weeks later, can randomly decide more should have been done - despite Moore not having a concussion.

The league decided it was the team’s fault for not having Moore taken to the locker room. Not the unaffiliated doctor, the team. That means, the unaffiliated doctor for any team cannot actually take a player out of the game for more check, only the team can - otherwise, the Dolphins could not be at fault for not following the protocol, because the unaffiliated doctor would have had to make the call for checking Moore for the no concussion he had. The league said it themselves, “The team doctor took appropriate steps to promptly and fully involve the Unaffiliated Neuro-trauma Consultant (UNC) in the medical evaluation of the player and review of the video. They jointly cleared Mr. Moore to return to the game...”

And, we can all guess the league does not want to be the one responsible for taking a player out of a playoff game. Better to leave that up to the team and then, if they do not do what the unaffiliated doctor should have had them do - again, in this case, it was not a matter of the Dolphins overruling the unaffiliated doctor, but rather both doctors agreeing there was no concussion - the league can then send down a letter telling the team they were wrong.

Great way to show you are concerned with player safety - shift the blame to someone else.

Don’t let your “unaffiliated” doctor actually have any power.

And, for goodness sake, make sure players that do not have a concussion according to two medical personnel are checked further for a concussion. If they are not - do not blame the league or the unaffiliated doctor, it must be the team’s fault.