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The NFL’s new concussion protocol won’t fix its player safety problem

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The reigning NFL MVP tried to get up, but his body failed him. All Newton could do was roll over and clutch his helmet.

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It was the NFL season opener in early September, and the Denver Broncos defense had just bashed Newton in the head again, one of many helmet-to-helmet hits on the Carolina Panthers’ quarterback that night. Medical staff members — trained to spot head injuries — reviewed the play and went through the league’s concussion protocol.

Then, they made a decision, one that was questioned by many, including the NFL Player’s Association.

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They let Newton keep playing.

After the game, many wondered if the Panthers had, in fact, followed proper protocol. And as it turns out, the NFL investigated the same thing.

The league announced Wednesday it would enhance its concussion protocol after the confusion surrounding Newton’s helmet-to-helmet hits in Week 1.

Here’s what actually happened that night, according to a statement from the league.

Sideline medical staff members contacted a concussion spotter in the booth for video of the hit on Newton, but a technology glitch delayed that process. Under the league’s concussion protocol during Week 1, once that contact was made, the booth spotter lost the ability to call a medical timeout. The sideline medical staff made their own assessment of Newton — without video from the booth — and let him play on.

The new protocol requires the booth spotter “to remain in contact with the club medical team and provide video support until the medical team confirms that a concussion evaluation has occurred,” the statement said.

The league has periodically made changes like this to the concussion protocol since implementing it in 2009.

That’s largely because as public discussion about head trauma has increased in recent years, the NFL got into some hot water.

In 2013, a pair of ESPN reporters published League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis, a book/documentary film exploring the link between the sport and brain injuries, and the NFL’sreluctance to acknowledge that link.

Some have accused the league of trying to cover the problem up.

According to the New York Times, the NFL’s own lengthy concussion research studies left out more than 100 diagnosed concussions. The league finally admitted the connection between football and brain injuries in March. A month later, an appeals court approved a class action settlement between the NFL and thousands of retired players, who received varying levels of compensation for dealing with repeated head trauma.

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