Monday, 7 December 2015

Ron Rivera, Michel Therrien on concussions and a coach's integrity.

Ron Rivera, the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, channeling Michel Therrien in a very similar incident with the press corps, passionately defended himself and warned them not to question his integrity following questions around Cam Newton's apparent concussion symptoms.

What both Mr. Rivera and Mr. Therrien seem to not understand is that no one is insulting them, calling them a bad person or anything, but rather they are questioning whether they are fully cognizant of their league's concussion protocol, and whether their respective leagues trumpet the high standard of care and caution they uphold, but then fall glaringly short sometimes.

In Michel Therrien's case, what the journos were questioning was why Nathan Beaulieu, after being clearly, evidently staggered by a punch during a fight, to the point that he lost his balance and his knees were rubbery, was allowed to sit in the penalty box and be subjected to the bright lights and deafening screechy rock music of the New Forum, instead of the much-ballyhooed Quiet Room.  The coach misunderstood the question and took offence, hammering the fact that he doesn't make the decisions, the doctors do, that what they say goes.  And that wasn't the issue being investigated by the press corps, it was strictly about Nathan being in the penalty box after head trauma and symptoms of a possible concussion, when he should have been in the quiet room.

What seems clear though is that Michel Therrien doesn't understand the purpose of the Quiet Room, how the harsh lights and loud noises of the rink can worsen the symptoms of an injury, and make diagnosis problematic, with his response that "There's not a lot of difference between sitting down in the penalty box and sitting in the rocking chair back there."  It's an indication of an old-school coach who thinks athletes today are a little pampered compared to when he used to play.

For Ron Rivera yesterday, the journos were after the same thing, trying to clear up how things fell through the cracks, how Cam Newton was allowed to play after being visibly staggered following a helmet-to-helmet hit, how come the medics on the sidelines, the on-field officials, the concussion spotters in the press gallery, no one intervened and made him get examined.

Again, although I hold Ron Rivera in high esteem, from his days at Cal and of the '86 Super Bowl Bears, and as an Assistant Coach with the Chargers, I question whether he has a full grasp of the concussion mechanism.  When he was quizzed about why no one on his team saw that Cam was in trouble, he took it personally, as if he was being insulted, defending himself that from his vantage point on the sidelines, he couldn't see what happened.

And he's missing the point.  After the Kris Dielman incident, NFL medical personnel were enjoined to always have at least one person surveying the field of play, to not have everyone focusing on taping ankles and massaging cramps, and miss one of their players in apparent distress on the field.  This measure, along with referees empowered to call for a medical timeout if, in their judgment, a player needed immediate attention, was supposed to prevent incidents where players are out on their feet but continue to play.  Shortly after, the concussion spotters were added to mix, so that nothing would get missed.

Somehow Cam Newton's symptoms were not caught by any of these safety checks.  And that's what the journalists were asking of Ron Rivera, who I have to guess through ignorance of the protocol assumed they were questioning his integrity, and whether he'd forced Cam to play over the objections of the team docs, which is entirely not what they were getting at.

So there's still a lot of work to do, if the coaches are still not quite up to speed on the nuts and bolts, never mind buffoon owners like the Bengals' Mike Brown.

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