Independent concussion specialists ready to work NFL sidelines

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review looked at the concussion experts who will be on NFL sidelines during the upcoming season.

As previously announced, the league will employ concussion specialists on each sideline to examine players immediately after they leave the field if they show concussion symptoms.

An independent head-injury expert, or unaffiliated neurological consultant, will use an iPad loaded with a concussion assessment program to determine whether a player suffered a concussion.

If a player fails the test, which takes about eight minutes, he cannot return to the game — no matter what a team physician says. In the past, some team doctors would do nothing more than ask a few brief questions before clearing a player, sometimes in less than a minute.

Additionally, a trained medical expert in the press box will call the neurological consultants and identify players they believe might have suffered a head injury so the player can be tested.

"It's important to have these injuries evaluated comprehensively and carefully, and I think if you have an expert involved that knows how to evaluate concussions, it is an added value," said Michael "Micky" Collins, the executive and clinical director of UPMC's concussion program.

The move is part of the NFL's improved vigilance in cutting down on head injuries through rule changes and addressing them sooner during games.

These changes are making players rethink the culture of football, which often led them to return to a game by hiding a concussion.

While former Steelers center Jeff Hartings said recently that players effectively cheated on concussion tests so they could keep playing, linebacker Larry Foote said the brain injury's dangers are making many players rethink their stance.

"You've got to err on safety's side for the long term," said Foote, who added that he covered up a concussion in the past to stay on the field. "I don't care what type of big game it is or who the player is, if a guy's concussed, we'll see you next week. Players, now, we're kicking that macho thing to the side."

-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor