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Panthers admit bending rules as NFL investigates Cam Newton's 'eye injury'

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The Carolina Panthers are adamant that quarterback Cam Newton suffered an eye injury — and not a concussion — after he was slammed to the turf by New Orleans defensive end David Onyemata.

But the team is still in some hot water for not only failing to follow the league’s updated concussion protocol, but also for admitting it bent the rules by telling Newton to drop to knees in order to give backup quarterback Derek Anderson time to warm up on the sidelines.

After the hit in Sunday’s playoff loss at New Orleans, Newton was slow to get up 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.

That also prompted the officials to call an injury timeout. Anderson used the timeout to take some warmup snaps and throws. He came in on the next play — a third down — and threw an incomplete pass to end the drive.

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

“I know it was precautionary things for a concussion, but it wasn’t a hit to the head it was my eye,” Newton said, per ESPN. “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.”

But a member of a committee set up by the NFL Players Association to study player safety issues told the Charlotte Observer that the Panthers violated the league’s concussion protocol.

“Any loss of balance means you have to go to the locker room,” said Chris Nowinski, Ph.d, CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. “He went down right after getting blasted in the head. … You have to assume concussion and that should be interpreted by loss of balance.”

After Houston quarterback Tom Savage appeared to suffer a seizure on a hit to the head but returned to a game earlier this season, the league and the players association agreed to a new policy that mandated a locker room evaluation for any player “demonstrating gross or sustained vertical instability (e.g., stumbling or falling to the ground when trying to stand).”

Nowinski believes the Panthers should be punished.

“They (the NFL) have to enforce it,” he said. “They have to punish groups who don’t follow the protocol.”

The league says it has contacted the team about their handling of Newton’s injury.

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Carolina head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Mary Hurney said Newton didn’t require a locker room evaluation because he said he had an eye injury. They said Newton didn’t lose his balance on the way off the field, but instead dropped to his knee as a way to trigger an official timeout.

“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,” Hurney said when explaining why Newton went to the ground while coming off the field.

“He took a hit. But when he walked off and he told the trainers he got poked in the eye, then they did take him into the tent and checked him for a concussion, which he did not have,” Hurney added.

If the league determines the team violated the concussion protocol, it is subject to a fine. Earlier this season, the Seattle Seahawks were fined $100,000 for violating the concussion protocol after quarterback Russell Wilson took a shot to the chin during a game at Arizona.

As for the manipulation of the injury timeout, well, the Panthers aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last team guilty of that infraction. The team isn’t likely to be fined for that specifically, unless the league rules it was a larger part of a violation of the concussion protocol.

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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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