It was the type of violent collision that should have sounded the alarms.
Yet just before halftime on Sunday night, Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Cameron Brate went back into the game after absorbing a blow and initially complaining of a shoulder injury – and not the head injury that ultimately led to him finishing the night in concussion protocol.
What a bad look for the NFL.
Three days after Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa lay on the turf in Cincinnati, with his hands in the “fencing” position that medical experts say signals a neurological problem, another case emerged in Tampa that raises serious questions about the effectiveness of procedures during NFL games to identify concussion issues.
Brate didn’t play during the second half of the loss against the Kansas City Chiefs after symptoms of a head injury surfaced during halftime.
But after colliding with teammate Chris Godwin and two defenders with about 1:35 left on the second quarter clock, why was Brate even allowed to return to the game in the first place?
“He complained of shoulder discomfort, nothing about his head,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles contended during a news conference on Monday as the second-guessing of the team’s handling of the injury intensified.
“He was checked out three times. He just said give him a minute. Nothing came up. He went back in ’til the end of the half.”
In other words, the Bucs took Brate at his word that he was fine to return to the game. He was targeted three times on the final six snaps of the half – including one play that technically didn’t count as he drew a pass interference penalty at the goal line that set up a touchdown on the next play.
MORE:After Tua Tagovailoa’s concussion, protocols enter spotlight: What happened in Sunday’s NFL games
OPINION:One simple question could have protected Tua Tagovailoa from serious injury
SPORTS NEWSLETTER:Sign up now to get top sports headlines delivered daily
No, Brate isn’t the first player – and he won’t be the last — to assure doctors, coaches and teammates that he’s fit continue after shaking off a big hit that begs for closer examination that follows the protocols the NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have established.
Sadly, he’s now another example of why the league and players union can’t move quickly enough to tighten up the protocols and hold people accountable.
“Broken system,” Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy tweeted on Monday, appalled by the handling of Brate’s case.
Dungy had an up-close view as the scenario unfolded as he watched the game from the sideline as part of NBC’s “Football Night in America” crew.
Dungy wrote that it was “obvious” that Brate “had his bell rung.”
He pointed fingers at the NFL-appointed spotter in the press box who could have stopped the game and alerted the referee.
No argument there. Yet there are others who were positioned to act as well, as Brate’s case, like Tagovailoa’s, underscores issues with the execution of the protocols, football’s macho culture and, well, common sense.
It would be easy to point the finger at Bowles, a former NFL defensive back who contended that he didn’t realize the nature of Brate’s condition when the tight end re-entered the game. Perhaps Bowles, like Miami Dolphins counterpart Mike McDaniel after Tagovailoa was shaken up in Week 3 and contended the primary concern was a back injury, should know better.
Brate appeared wobbly as he got up from the collision and jogged to the sideline in taking himself out of the game – only not fast enough to prevent the Bucs from being penalized for having too many men on the field.
Wasn’t that a penalty flag a clue that something wasn’t right?
Bowles insisted that the penalty was a “substitution error” and that another player should not have been on the field until Brate came off. But that doesn’t explain it well enough. If Brate had to come off because he was hurt after the collision, maybe Bowles needed to dig deeper.
Or just believe what he could have seen with his eyes and heard with his ears after the collision prompted a widespread reactive groan from the crowd at Raymond James Stadium.
“You can’t see a neurologist or talk about a concussion if you’re only talking about your shoulder,” Bowles said, before repeating his apparent talking points about the halftime symptoms and diagnosis.
Then again, Bowles wasn’t the only one whose actions are under review. The Bucs, like every team during every game, have an unaffiliated neurologist on hand to work with team doctors and athletics trainers to conduct examinations and remove players from games independently. No, that didn’t happen immediately in Brate’s case, which unfolded a day after the NFLPA fired the independent neurologist who worked with the doctors.
It’s unclear whether the NFLPA will launch another investigation into Brate’s case, as its probe into Tagovailoa’s situation continues. A union official told USA TODAY Sports on Monday afternoon that such a decision had not been finalized. I’d be shocked if the NFLPA doesn’t dig deeper into this. Since DeMaurice Smith became the NFLPA’s executive director in 2009, concussions have consistently been a front-burner issue for a union that has admirably held the NFL’s feet to the fire. Now, given the risks of long-term effects of concussions, there’s suddenly another case begging for more scrutiny.
Bowles, who played eight NFL seasons, was believable when he insisted on Monday that he’s not in the business of using players who are hurt.
Of course, determining that is such a fine line in the NFL.
“It’s always important for players to speak up,” Bowles said, although he also knows enough about NFL culture in that regard. “It’s important for us to see it as well. Obviously, if we see a hard hit, something up against the head, we want to take a look at it.
“Some things, you don’t see, if it’s up in this area,” Bowles added, motioning to his chest and shoulders. “They may have a delayed reaction with a knee-jerk thing. So, player safety is important for us in this league. We’re not trying to play anybody that’s hurt.”
Which the teams, coaches and league can try proving on any given Sunday, Monday or Thursday – especially when it comes to dealing with head injuries.
Story Credit: usatoday.com