The scene at Michigan Stadium on Saturday was not what we’ve come to expect in 2014, and that’s a good thing. In the fourth quarter of a college football game between the University of Michigan and the University of Minnesota, Michigan quarterback Shane Morris was knocked to the ground by a helmet-first tackle directly under his chin. Morris exhibited signs of a concussion: he winced and walked gingerly towards the sideline before collapsing into a teammate’s arms. Apparently Michigan’s coaches and medical staff didn’t see, or figured his behavior was the result of a leg injury sustained earlier in the game. Either way, Morris returned to the game for the next play. “This seems a little dangerous to me,” the announcer said of the decision. Morris was then sidelined after that, but a few plays later re-entered the game. In the aftermath, Michigan has been roundly criticized by for its handling of the situation.
Had this scenario played out 10 years ago, it’s possible Morris would have been applauded for “toughing it out” and staying in the game. It’s a safe bet that ABC News would not have featured the story on its nightly broadcast, as it did on Sunday. Sports bloggers would not have called for Michigan’s coaching staff to be fired. But all of that—and more—happened in response to Saturday’s incident, and it shows the progress we’ve made as a society in concussion awareness.
The NCAA Concussion Management Plan is very clear, and Michigan did not follow protocol on Saturday. The school released a statement earlier today saying, in part, “There was a serious lack of communication that led to confusion on the sideline. Unfortunately, this confusion created a circumstance that was not in the best interest of [Shane Morris] in…We have to learn from this situation, and moving forward, we will make important changes so we can fully live up to our shared goal of putting student-athlete safety first.”
In Michigan head coach Brady Hoke’s press conference on Monday morning, he denied that Morris sustained a concussion. Michigan’s latest statement indicated that Morris did suffer a “probable, mild concussion.” Even if this wasn’t the case, the fact that Morris showed signs and behaviors of a concussion should have been enough, according to the NCAA guide, to remove Morris from the game. Once on the sideline, a trained professional should have administered a SCAT3 exam, designed to determine if a player has suffered a head injury. This exam takes at least 15 minutes, and yet Morris re-entered the game about three minutes after getting hit.
Michigan’s handling of the situation shows that we have a come a long way in how we view hits to the head. At the same time, it proves there is still room for improvement.