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Will Concussion Replacements Solve Safety Issue?

Joe Root ducking a bouncer during the Ashes 2017/18

The issue of concussions has become the crucial issue in sport, as medical research has highlighted the long-term dangers to players’ health. The NFL has lead the way forward for the rest of the sporting world after a lawsuit by over 200 former players brought the series matter of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) to light.

New Rule?

Cricket endured its own watershed moment in 2014 when Australia batsman Philip Hughes died in tragic circumstances after being struck by the wall on the head, suffering subarachnoid haemorrhage. Since then, blows to head have been treated with the utmost delicacy, raising questions of whether batsmen should be subjugated to bouncers at over 90mph, especially tail-enders who lack the skill to cope compared to their top-order counterparts. As a result, the lawmakers of the game, the Marylebone Cricket Club, have addressed the issue by bringing forward a new rule allowing replacements for players who have suffered a concussion for the new English county season. Research has suggested that there have been in the region of 15 to 20 incidents over the last three seasons. The design of the regulation should ensure that the player in question should not feel pressured to remain on the field should they be experiencing symptoms of concussion.

The NFL has implemented a standard test to determine whether a player has suffered a concussion. However, it has been met with mixed results even though the examination is performed by an independent medical officer. The pressure to return to the field after a blow is understandable, especially in playoff matches, and particularly on star players. There were signs of progress towards the end of the last campaign, although there still remains a long way to go before this proves to be a cut-and-dry process.

Football has begun to show the due care and consideration for concussions. With the widespread appeal of the game, it will be vital that their governing bodies take heed of the lessons learned by the NFL and cricket among others. We’ll now look at examples at how these rules have been and could be implemented across the two sports.

Joe Root

Root was always going to be a peripheral figure in the Ashes, leading his side against Australia for the first time. After making a minimal impact of the first innings at the Gabba, Root had to lead from the front the second time around as his team faced a deficit. However, as he faced up to the pace of Mitchell Starc, the England skipper was struck by a rising bouncer flush on the helmet. The Australian fielders and Starc displayed immediate concern for Root – with memories of Hughes’ tragedy likely in the forefront of their minds.However, Root was only shaken by the incident and was allowed to continue after an examination by the England physio.

This prevents an awkward situation and could be present in any league. For example, if Root's teammate Ben Stokes suffered a blow while playing for the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League. The Royals paid a huge amount to secure his signature and would not want their outstanding player to leave the field.Stokes himself will always be aiming to be on the field, while his departure would have great impact on the contest in the odds -  he's that valuable on the pitch. Fans in India look to him to keep their team going strong and also know how much his absence would affect the outcome of a game - and, thus, the betting odds too. As a result, such an injury not only places the player in question in a difficult position but also the physio, who has to decide whether to withdraw the best batsman from the team. The new system offered this season will ease the pressure, although whether it provides answers in the bigger matches remains to be seen.

Cam Newton

There were over 281 reported concussions in the NFL in the 2017 campaign. This statistic displayed an increase from 2016 by 13.5%. However, Cam Newton’s hit in the NFC Wildcard Round is one of the incidents not included in these statistics. Firstly, because the statistics only recorded the regular season and secondly because the Panthers insisted that Newton did not have a concussion following a hit to the head from David Onyemata.

The Carolina quarterback staggered to the sidelines before receiving treatment. Derek Anderson replaced him for one play before Newton returned to the field, almost leading the Panthers to victory. The Panthers insisted that he only suffered a jab to the eye, and advocated his return to the field after he successfully passed a concussion test. However, many pundits and experts were far from convinced that Newton was in a fit state to return to the field, bringing the process under scrutiny.

Rob Gronkowski/Brandin Cooks

The Patriots are not usually on the right side of NFL rules and regulations. However, they were a shining example of player safety being paramount even on the biggest stage. During their AFC Championship clash against the Jacksonville Jaguars, tight end Rob Gronkowski was clattered as he attempted to catch a pass down the seam by Tashaun Gipson. It was an honest hit from the Jaguars defensive back, but it was still a penalty. Gronkowski had to be helped to his feet by team-mate by Chris Hogan before he was assisted off the field. New England waited until the second half before ruling him out of the contest – a major call considering they were losing at that point and would have to battle on without their best player outside of Tom Brady.

New England advanced to the Super Bowl and were put in a similar position when Brandin Cooks received a vicious hit courtesy of Malcolm Jenkins. The wideout turned into the hit and appeared to be knocked out on the field. On this occasion, the Patriots ruled him out of the match immediately despite his importance to their offense and the magnitude of the contest. Although there are rules and regulations in place across sports to safeguard players, the onus is on teams to ensure that their charges’ health is the priority.

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