4:39 PM CST, November 16, 2012
Jay Cutler won't play for the Bears Monday night at San Francisco, and fans should be glad. After suffering a concussion on Sunday, he clearly shouldn't exposed himself to risk again so soon. But the Cutler episode only shows that the current way of handling such incidents is dangerously obsolete.
With Jason Campbell taking over, says Fox Sports, "the Bears believe they can get by without Cutler, at least for now." But the Bears' view of their chances shouldn't be a factor. The only basis for a sound decision is what's best for the player, long-term as well as short-term. Winning and losing should be irrelevant.
But they're not. Coaches and team executives have a conflict of interest between their need to win (to keep their jobs) and their obligation to protect players. There is no doubt the latter often gets short shrift. If we're talking about a knee or shoulder, that's bad enough. But for a brain injury that can lead over time to dementia and death, it's intolerable.
So here's the solution: The NFL should have strict protocols in place to establish when a player has been concussed. And when it happens, the decision about his return should be taken away from his team and given over to the league. the NFL has no direct stake in whether Chicago or San Francisco wins, which puts it in a better position to make assessments on the basis of health and safety.
The Bears deserve credit for holding Cutler out. The 49ers, for the record, haven't decided whether to play quarterback Alex Smith, who got a concussion last Sunday as well. They will be tempted to try. The temptation should be removed.
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