WHEN STEWART BRADLEY got to his feet after going headfirst into teammate Ernie Sims' knee, he immediately staggered and fell back to the turf at Lincoln Financial Field.
Who on the Eagles' sideline saw this happen?
The Eagles would not answer the question yesterday afternoon, hours after both Bradley, their starting middle linebacker, and quarterback Kevin Kolb were allowed to re-enter the team's 27-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers after suffering concussions. Bradley missed about three plays near the end of the second quarter, returned for a couple more, and then did not appear to participate on the Packers' final drive of the half. Right after that, Kolb returned for a three-and-out series after his concussion and then he was done.
The two players are different and the two issues are different - and now the Eagles, whose head athletic trainer, Rick Burkholder, has developed a stringent protocol for when a player can return from a concussion, are being criticized for allowing the players, especially Bradley, to go back into the game, however briefly.
Eagles coach Andy Reid said that both players were allowed to return because, "They were fine. All of the questions that they answered with the doctors registered well. But as it went on, they weren't feeling well so we took them out."
The Eagles did not make Bradley, Kolb nor their medical staff available for comment.
But Michael D. Schwartz, M.D., the lead physician of Sports Concussion Management of the Lehigh Valley, said in an e-mail that Bradley should never have been considered for a return. He wrote, "Bradley's ataxia [poor balance] was clearly evident as he struggled to get off the field after his injury. I am aware of Coach Reid's postgame statement that Bradley was cleared for return because his symptoms resolved on the sideline, but evaluation for return should not have been an option."
Which raises the question again:
Who saw Bradley stagger and fall?
Everybody watching on television saw it because the Fox cameras caught the whole thing and replayed it in sickly slow motion. I have to admit that, sitting in the press box with a clear view of the entire field, I did not see it happen live, only on the replay.
Sidelines, meanwhile, are busy places, and trainers and doctors are busy people. When the Bradley incident happened, Kolb was already on the sideline being evaluated by at least part of the medical and training staff. He had been tackled by Clay Matthews and stayed down for a few seconds after the hit. He apparently told the Eagles' medical people that he suffered a jaw injury; at least that was what was relayed to reporters in the press box, with the addendum that Kolb would return.
With that evaluation taking place, it is unknown who saw the Bradley incident. It was eerily similar to what happened to the Flyers' Sami Kapanen in a 2004 playoff game against Toronto - except that Kapanen's repeated attempts to get to his feet lasted about 30 seconds while Bradley's incident lasted about 2 seconds.
Asked how someone could make the decision to allow Bradley back into the game after seeing him stagger like that and fall, Reid said, "Our doctors and our trainer were on it. The bottom line is, we ended up taking him out."
Actually, no. The bottom line is that if the Eagles' medical staff was aware of what happened to Bradley, the decision to allow him to return showed a disappointing disregard for at least the spirit of the NFL's new concussion guidelines.
According to the league, "a player who suffers a concussion should not return to play or practice on the same day if any of the following symptoms or signs is identified based on the initial medical evaluation of the player," and it follows with a long list of symptoms. Loss of consciousness is first on the list, followed by "confusion as evidenced by disorientation to person, time or place."
There are many more. Still, some things don't need to be spelled out. Common sense tells you that something significant happened to Bradley when he could not regain his balance, however quickly he was able to pull himself together on the sidelines. If a medical person on the sideline saw what happened, Bradley should not have been allowed to talk his way back into the game.
That undoubtedly is what happened, by the way. By the time they got to the sideline, both Bradley and Kolb must have gathered their faculties and minimized whatever happened to them on the field in talking to the medical people. In war and in NFL concussions, the first casualty is the truth - and until players are honest about their symptoms, the NFL is going to continue to be a scary, dangerous place to make a living.
But this is different. And these are the questions: How could nobody on the sideline have seen Bradley fall? And if somebody did see it, how could they have let him go back into that game?
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