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NFL lashes out at 'irresponsible' fans after Panthers investigation

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The good news for Cam Newton is that he didn’t suffer a concussion when he absorbed a brutal hit in the team’s playoff loss at New Orleans on Jan. 7.

The good news for the Carolina Panthers is that a joint review by the NFL and NFL Players Association has found the team did not violate the league’s concussion protocol in its handling of Newton’s injury.

Newton was slammed to the turf by New Orleans defensive end David Onyemata early in the fourth quarter of the Saints’ 31-26 victory. Newton was slow to get up after the hit, and then headed toward the Carolina sideline. Before he could get off the field, he appeared to lose his balance and dropped to one knee, prompting the team’s medical staff to come onto the field.

Newton was eventually attended to on the sidelines, but returned to the game on the next series.


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He did not go to the locker room for additional concussion tests.

“I know it was precautionary things for a concussion, but it wasn’t a hit to the head — it was my eye,” Newton said after the game. “My helmet had came down low enough over my eyelid and it got pressed by the player’s stomach, I believe. I thought somebody stuck their finger in my eye, but I’ve got my visor, so that couldn’t happen.”

Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told the Charlotte Observer that an examination of Newton on the sideline did not show any of the signs that would have warranted a locker room evaluation.

“Gross motor instability does not mean that you take a knee and go to the ground,” Sills said Wednesday. “Gross motor instability is reflective of dysfunction of the cerebellum, the balance center in the brain, where someone cannot even keep a vertical posture. And that’s clearly not what happened in this case.”

When Newton dropped to his knees on his way to the sideline, it wasn’t a result of him losing his balance. Sills said Newton was directed to go down by one of the team’s trainers. Newton could not fully bend his right knee because of an injury he suffered earlier in the game, and that’s what caused him to go to the ground in a somewhat awkward fashion, Sills said.

“It’s very straightforward. There was no gross motor instability here,” Sills said. “He voluntarily went to the ground at the direction of the coaching staff, and he had a knee injury that prevented him from doing so in a standard manner.

“It was never our intent that every player who takes a knee on the field needs a concussion evaluation in the locker room. That’s not what gross motor instability means.”

The NFL said Newton sustained an abrasion over his right eye and “foreign matter” in his eye — presumably particles from the artificial turf — as a result of the tackle.

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The NFLPA also said Wednesday it supported the treatment Newton received from the Panthers and the independent medical staff at the game.

“Our review of all of the facts do not support a claim of inappropriate medical care. Mr. Newton was immediately evaluated for a concussion and cleared by the team physician and unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant,” the NFLPA said in its statement. “We will continue to advocate for improvements to and strict compliance with all health and safety protocols for NFL players.”

NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart lashed out at media members and fans who were critical of how Newton’s injury was handled, saying people shouldn’t make medical evaluations based on what they see on television.

“People are making judgments about this without all the facts and without a full understanding of some of the medical determinations that are made,” Lockhart told the Observer.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter quoted Lockhart as saying, “This highlights the challenge that reporters and commentators have, needing to immediately draw conclusions without any of the facts. This is a lesson for all: You jump to conclusions at your own peril.”

The league’s statement echoed that sentiment:

“We urge restraint among those who attempt to make medical diagnoses based upon the broadcast video alone. Evaluation for a concussion requires not only an analysis of the broadcast video but an examination performed by a medical team familiar with the player and the relevant medical history. Review of this case confirmed again the vigilance, professionalism and conservative approach that is used by our NFL team medical staffs and independent medical providers. Each of these medical professionals is committed to the best care of our NFL players and is not influenced by game situation or the player’s role on the field. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible and not supported by the medical facts.”

The day after the game, there were not only questions about the team’s handling of Newton’s injury, but also allegations that the Panthers bent the rules by instructing Newton to go to his knees on the field, triggering an official timeout. The Panthers used that timeout to allow backup quarterback Derek Anderson time to warm up before entering the game.

“He took a knee because [our trainers] told him to take a knee so we could get the official timeout and Derek [Anderson] could warm up,” Marty Hurney, interim general manager, said when explaining why Newton went to the ground while coming off the field.

While the league could fine a team if it discovered a player was instructed to fake an injury for the purpose of stopping the action on the field, no action was taken against the Panthers since Newton did suffer an actual injury.

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Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. A native of Milwaukee, he currently resides in Phoenix.
Scott Kelnhofer is a writer for The Western Journal and Conservative Tribune. He has more than 20 years of experience in print and broadcast journalism. A native of Milwaukee, he has resided in Phoenix since 2012.
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