The nasty truth about concussions: Player suspected of suffering a concussion often pass a medical evaluation shortly after whatever caused the suspicion.
How do you treat those players?
If they have a concussion, re-inserting them into the game would be dangerous. If they don’t have a concussion, keeping them from the game would hinder their team.
I believe players should be kept from returning to participation the day they’re suspected of having a concussion, even if they clear initial testing. The risk is just too great. The NBA’s concussion policy allows them to return.
That’s a value judgment, one where I and the league disagree.
But the absolute minimum is properly testing players suspecting of having a concussion as soon as possible, and the NBA’s concussion policy demands that. We can differ on protocol after a passed test, but sometimes, players fail the initial test. It’s imperative that test be done in accordance with the league’s policy.
Yet, that too often doesn’t happen.
The Cavaliers didn’t immediately evaluate Kevin Love after he showed numerous concussion symptoms in Game 2 of last season’s Finals. The Lakers had Larry Nance Jr. play through visible concussion symptoms before removing him from play to evaluate him.
And the Clippers failed to properly test Austin Rivers for a concussion during Saturday’s game against the Pelicans.
Rivers took an elbow to the head from Terrence Jones in the third quarter and went to the floor. Rivers didn’t look well and held his hands to his head. The Clippers realized something was wrong, removing him from the game. He continued to look distressed on the bench, clutching the towel he draped over his head.
And apparently, the Clippers made the completely logical judgment: Rivers might have suffered a concussion. We know this because Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Austin was tested for a concussion on the bench and passed the test.
So, Austin returned to the game to start the fourth quarter and soon lost his bearings. It was a scary sight, and the Clippers wasted no time getting him out of the game then.
Again, the NBA’s policy will allow concussed players to sometimes play. They just must pass an evaluation prior to returning.
The problem was Austin’s evaluation. The concussion policy says (emphasis mine):
If a player is suspected of having a concussion, or exhibits the signs or symptoms of concussion, he will be removed from participation and undergo evaluation by the medical staff in a quiet, distraction-free environment conducive to conducting a neurological evaluation.
The bench at an NBA arena during a game is not a “quiet, distraction-free environment conducive to conducting a neurological evaluation.”
Would the Clippers have identified Austin’s concussion if they tested him in the locker room? We’ll never know. Perhaps, his symptoms were delayed and wouldn’t have registered there either. But that environment would’ve given doctors the best chance to correctly diagnose him.
I don’t believe the NBA’s concussion policy goes far enough, but when not even that is followed, it puts players at far too great of risk.