MINNEAPOLIS — The NFL will have four independent concussion specialists on hand for Super Bowl LII, the result of multiple changes to its protocol over the course of the 2017 season.
The first iteration of the NFL’s current policy, established in 2014, placed one unaffiliated neurological consultant — known as a “UNC” — on each team’s sideline. The UNCs work with team physicians and athletic trainers to spot, evaluate and treat concussion symptoms during a game. After a heavily criticized delay in noticing the distress of Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage in Week 14, the league added two additional UNC roles for the playoffs.
One serves as a backup “floater” in the event that another UNC is occupied. The other has been working as a centralized spotter in the league’s New York headquarters. That UNC will join the other three at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
During a meeting Tuesday with a small group of reporters, Dr. Allen Sills — the NFL’s chief medical officer — said the league will study the possibility of making those changes permanent during the offseason.
The NFL announced last week that the number of concussions rose to 281 during the preseason and regular season, the highest total since the league began releasing data in 2012. Sills reiterated that he is “disappointed” with the increase but pushed back on public criticism of the protocol itself.
“I like to say it wasn’t written on the back of an envelope on an elevator ride one day,” Sills said. “There is a tremendous amount of planning, of study, of preparation, of gathering of expert opinion. And frankly, I find it very offensive when people say, ‘Gosh, the concussion protocol is a joke.’ Because it is a very rare scientific document.
“No protocol is perfect. No protocol accounts for every single medical scenario, and that’s why we have to continue to make it better. But we are incredibly dedicated to the task of making it as a good as it can be.”
The NFL’s concussion policy is unmatched in modern sports, Sills said. Of more than 600 concussion tests performed this season, three came under review. The Seattle Seahawks were fined $100,000 for failing to test quarterback Russell Wilson in Week 10. The Savage play resulted in multiple protocol changes, including the UNC additions. Meanwhile, the league found no fault in the Carolina Panthers‘ treatment of quarterback Cam Newton after he suffered an eye injury in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
“I’ve worked in a whole bunch of pro sports and 20-plus years in college,” Sills said, “and I would say that our protocol for concussions in the NFL is at the top of the class. … We have a tremendous investment in getting this right and making it the best it can be, and we have nothing to hide. Our protocol is on our website. We’re in the process of submitting it for publication. Our concussion protocol is not a secret, and that’s not true for every other league. If you wanted to get some others, you might not find them.”