Over the past few years, the CFL has taken steps to improve the safety of players, especially when it relates to head trauma.
Everything from concussion awareness campaigns to standardized concussion testing.
But more needs to be done.
Players and coaches both need strict, enforceable protocol put into place by the league in order to protect players. Coaches are constantly pressured to patch together a competitive team week after week with a limited 42-man roster, and players are willing to ride the fine line between discomfort and further injury in order to ensure their place on the active roster.
The CFL has finally taken a hard stance on the diagnosis and recovery from concussions. Montreal Alouette safety Etienne Boulay has now missed three games heading into their bye week, as he continues to suffer from post-concussion symptoms.
"The headaches won't go away," he told Postmedia News earlier this month. "I still feel off, not myself. At least my personality is back, I'd lost my sense of humour. It was like I was sleep walking."
In the past, these types of subjective descriptions of how you felt as a player often fell on deaf ears and they were chalked up as simply getting your bell rung.
There were several games through the course of my career where I would take a solid shot to the head and for periods of time I would lose all peripheral vision. My typical remedy would be to grab some smelling salt capsules and wave them under my nose on the sideline and "shake the fog away." Eventually my vision would come back and life would go on.
As players, we would often laugh when we would review game film and have no recollection of several plays or series.
It's only now that I get concerned that when I lay flat on my back without a pillow that I immediately start to get the spins or that when I take my two-year-old boy on the swing that I need to get off because I start to feel sick to my stomach.
It starts to hit home when I read about brain autopsies done on former players that show that they had suffered from a trauma-induced condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, and died before the age of 60 or players that are currently suffering from conditions like frontal lobe dementia.
The research on head trauma has finally gotten the attention of sports.
Taking the first step
Rather than continue to rely on the player to give subjective descriptions on how they feel, the CFL has adopted an objective protocol that determines if a concussed player can return to practicing and playing.
In order to be cleared to return to action, the player must pass a 30-minute computer test monitored by a doctor, which tests the player's decision making, ability to react and memory.
It's a positive step. The protocol has been effective delaying the players return to action; however, I feel the diagnosis of concussions during the game can continue to improve.
Using NHL's example
The NHL has recently adopted "in game" protocol to assess players who are suspected of having a concussion. Players are to be removed from the game and immediately sent to a quiet place free from distractions so they can be examined by the on-site team physician.
In the past, a player suspected of having sustained a concussion would be evaluated by the team's trainer or doctor in the bench area.
What is now understood in all sports is that a player can sustain a hit and immediately feel comfortable going back into the game. Concussion symptoms may be delayed as long as 15 minutes.
The CFL does not currently have a similar "in game" policy. Team physicians are currently required to evaluate the player on the bench if they are suspected to have had a concussion.
The question I have is why did Etienne Boulay stay in the Saskatchewan game even though he felt tired and emotional? And he's not alone. Players returning to play despite feeling woozy has been going on for decades.
In order to protect players from the next hit, "in game" concussion diagnosis needs to be constantly monitored.
Part of the onus will continually remain with the player to report symptoms, but new concussion protocol should be designed to take some of the player's decision making away. Objective protocol should dictate that a player will be forced to leave the field regardless of the situation in the game.
The next protocol that will need to be evaluated is what to do when a player's helmet comes off of his head during a play.
For some reason, helmets are popping off heads this year. I don't really care why this is the case, whether it is due to hair styles or beanie caps worn to limit the sweat into the eyes. If a helmet comes off someone's head, there is a huge risk of major head trauma occurring.
Once again, I believe that to ensure player safety, the protocol should be that if a helmet comes off a player's head during the course of a play, the play should be whistled dead regardless of the situation.
At least the league is moving in the right direction, as they continue to apply measures to help protect players from themselves.
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