Last Sunday, during the fourth quarter, Saints tight end Coby Fleener took a brutal hit from Rams safety Blake Countess.
Though the hit was clearly a perfect example of targeting in the college realm, Countess was not ejected from the game for his hit (the Danny Trevathan hit on Davante Adams also rings a bell). He received a penalty for hitting a defenseless receiver even though he obviously led with his helmet directly into Fleener’s helmet. The hit was absolutely careless and extremely dangerous. The correct call from the officials should have been the ruling of an “egregious” hit followed by immediate ejection.
Until the players who deliver dangerous hits are immediately removed from a game, there is no reason for them to stop making such plays. Instead of the Rams losing a safety for the remainder of the game, the Saints ended up losing a tight end.
And the latest reports indicate this could be a severe concussion for Fleener with symptoms that may last for weeks or longer. Why would Countess have any reason to stop leading with his helmet when his action led to the removal of his opponent rather than himself?
Fleener has a history of head trauma, as this was his fifth documented concussion in his career. He shook his head in an attempt to “shake it off,” and the camera caught his visibly distressed face as he returned to the sideline after the play.
I was watching in a bar, and every single person there cringed while several people said, “he’s definitely gonna have a concussion.” I could tell from just watching his eyes through his helmet that he was bug eyed and I actually strained to see if I could tell if his pupils were already dilating.
But it appears, a bunch of drunk Saints fans are better equipped at recognizing a potential concussive hit more than Saints head coach Sean Payton. Payton defended Fleener’s continued presence on the field saying “there were no signs or symptoms immediately following the hit.” Fleener was not evaluated right after the hit, however. So how could Payton say there were no signs or symptoms without a medical evaluation?
Only three plays later, Fleener dropped a pretty catchable pass. “It wasn’t until a play or two later — I want to say early the next series — where he was having more of a vision issue,” Payton said, “and as soon as Dan (Campbell), his position coach, realized it, we held him back and went ahead and had testing.”
“The process took place in a good way," Payton said Wednesday in a teleconference. "We're pretty on top of that and pretty aggressive. We have a complete protocol. The Saints have one that's real strict.” Yeah Payton, keep telling yourself that. What protocol? Strict? My black and gold ass.
Why is the position coach the one noticing this? Why wasn’t Fleener held out immediately for testing when anyone with eyes could see he took a neck jarring hit to the helmet? Does Payton need his players to fall over unconscious to grab his attention towards concussive hits? Where was the independent sideline neurologist who is supposed to suggest medical testing, especially when signs and symptoms are not immediately obvious?
Earlier this season, Payton had to fire two team doctors for incompetence and then promise the team in a private meeting that he would do everything he could to hire the best doctors and protect the player’s safety moving forward. This incident absolutely undercuts that promise, and if I were a Saints player, I would have zero confidence that my coaches and doctors have my health in their best interests.
What’s incredibly ironic is that Fleener has partnered with tech firm SyncThink in order to provide a sideline device, EYE-SYNC, that can definitively and objectively diagnose a concussion within 60 seconds.
There is no greater need in the NFL than this device’s presence on every sideline at every game, and practice for that matter, if coaches and doctors aren’t going to do their job protecting their players by exercising proper precaution and holding players out for mandatory medical evaluation following dangerous hits to the head.
It’s clear. The officials don’t penalize the helmet-hitters enough to elicit better tackling technique. The sideline neurologists are useless if they aren’t being proactive in their head trauma evaluations following dangerous hits. The coaches can’t be trusted to make objective decisions towards holding hard hit players out for medical evaluation before returning to play.
It’s time to remove human error and begin utilizing the technology available to accurately diagnose concussions.
If the NFL wants to show it actually cares about player safety, now is the time to partner with EYE-SYNC. The worst thing that could have happened would be Fleener missing 60 seconds of the game to be properly diagnosed before returning. If coaches can’t live without further endangering their players for 60 seconds, than they don’t deserve to hold the health and wellness of these players in their hands.