Published December 13, 2011
CLEVELAND – An investigation by the NFL and Players Association into the Browns' handling of Colt McCoy's concussion could lead to changes in the league's medical procedures and protocol on head injuries.
McCoy sustained a concussion when he was hit last week by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who was suspended for one game for the helmet-to-helmet hit, his fifth illegal one on a quarterback in the past three seasons.
League and NFLPA representatives are meeting with the Browns on Tuesday to discuss McCoy's injury, which may have exposed some previously unaddressed issues tied to the concussion policies.
In an email response to The Associated Press, league spokesman Greg Aiello said the purpose of the meeting "is to examine procedures and identify areas for further discussion with other medical experts, Commissioner Goodell and the union."
Aiello said any changes in policy or procedure would be made by Goodell and in conjunction with the league's medical committee and the union.
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith acknowledged the union is taking part in the review.
"We made visits pursuant to new procedures in the CBA that are designed to protect our players," he said in a statement. "We will examine what we learned and take whatever steps that are necessary" to ensure player safety.
The Browns said McCoy, whose head snapped back after he was struck on the facemask, did not show symptoms of a concussion until after the game. Coach Pat Shurmur claims the team followed medical protocol before the second-year quarterback was allowed to return just minutes after absorbing the vicious hit.
On Monday, Shurmur refused to answer direct questions whether the team administered standardized concussion tests for McCoy while he was on the sideline. Shurmur said head trainer Joe Sheehan told him McCoy was ready to go back in the game.
"I feel like we followed the normal medical procedures necessary," Shurmur said. "We followed the procedures to determine whether he was eligible to play."
McCoy was sent home before practice on Monday to rest as he recovers from his concussion, the ninth suffered by a Cleveland player this season.
Shurmur is hopeful McCoy will be able to play at Arizona this Sunday. Backup Seneca Wallace will make his first start of the season if McCoy is ruled out. Wallace came in for two plays after McCoy was briefly knocked out of the game by Harrison.
The Browns have come under intense scrutiny for the way they dealt with McCoy's injury.
The quarterback's father, Brad McCoy, criticized the team for allowing his son to return to the game. The elder McCoy went as far as to question whether the Browns' medical staff was capable of identifying a concussion.
The NFLPA could file a grievance on McCoy's behalf if it's determined the Browns did not test him properly for a concussion. The league could also take action against the club.
The Browns lost two other players, tight end Benjamin Watson and rookie fullback Owen Marecic, to concussions against the Steelers. Cleveland's training and medical staff were praised by several players on Monday for their vigilance with head injuries.
Linebacker Scott Fujita, a member of the union's executive council, said it's up to the league and union to set the standards for dealing with head injuries and to make changes when necessary.
"There are league-wide problems in procedure, and that's what needs to be addressed," Fujita said. "It's the process. We need to continue to strive to find better ways to take care of our players, and I think an independent neurologist on game days is something that should be seriously considered."
The idea of an independent medical consultant deciding who should be allowed to play didn't sit well with other players.
Cornerback Sheldon Brown, a 10-year veteran, said any qualified medical personnel would have to watch the game from the press box or on TV and then would need to come down to the sideline to do another test on the injured player.
Even then, there are always going to be differing opinions whether a player is putting himself at risk.
"It's a sticky situation," Brown said. "As a competitor and as an athlete, if I can go and a trainer tells me I can't go, that trainer has a problem with me after the game. If somebody's holding me out and I know I can play and help the team and at the end of the day some jerk trying to save his butt knows protocol but doesn't know me as an individual or my pain tolerance or my threshold, it's not fair for him to hold me out.
"I'm old-school, man, so I think you either play the game or you don't. It's your choice."