The last time McCoy spoke to Cleveland reporters, the NFL, the mightiest and most profitable league in American professional sports, changed its medical procedures. It was the only official response they could have made to conform to the imperatives of safety and empathy in a sport in which bravery, no matter how admired, seldom trumps savagery, no matter how deplored, in the end-game.
Brad McCoy had a big megaphone when he told The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot that his son, Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, never should have gone back into a nationally televised Dec. 8 game at Pittsburgh after receiving a bone-jarring, helmet-to-helmet hit from the Steelers' James Harrison late in the game.
It cost Harrison $73,529, his pay for the one week he was suspended. It cost the NFL a lot of credibility in its campaign to convince fans and former players that it is truly vigilant about player safety.
The feeling here is that the Browns were victims of a "perfect storm," made up of many factors, including a glut of injuries to other players that was occupying the attention of team doctors and trainers, the inability of anyone with access to replays of the hit to intercede in the decision-making about McCoy's fitness, and the pressure of the game- and play-clocks. No Browns medical personnel even saw the hit, not even on the replay board.
The play itself also occurred in something of a gray area. It came after Colt McCoy had taken several steps as he scrambled. He appeared intent on running the ball, forfeiting rules protection afforded him in the pocket, before throwing a pass at the last instant.
Still, the examination procedure was deeply flawed. The Browns dispute the argument, advanced by me among others, that McCoy would have received better medical attention had he been a higher-profile quarterback, such as Drew Brees or Tom Brady. Perhaps a better assessment should be that everyone involved was stressed by the rash of injuries and that effective examination was difficult under the sideline procedures in effect at the time. McCoy, at any rate, did not begin to show concussion-like symptoms until the game was over.
Only 12 days later, the NFL announced a simple, proactive addition to its "concussion protocol." Certified athletic trainers, seated in the press box with access to instant replay, can require further examination of an injured player if they are concerned about his fitness to return to the game. Video replay will be available to medical personnel on the sidelines, too.
No league makes such a substantive change regarding player safety during the season unless it has to. But the public perception of the NFL's safeguards keeps worsening -- with the recent suicide of the great linebacker Junior Seau and the undetermined role head injuries might have had in it; with probable future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner dissuading his own son from playing the game; with broken men, their bodies and minds in ruins, suing the league for overlooking or downplaying the damage they suffered.
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