Controversy over concussions has taken flight recently over the collision between Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Everton’s Romelu Lukaku on Sunday. Lloris, who suffered the injury in the 78th minute, continued through the nine added minutes for injury time and the final whistle, even after stating he did not remember the collision. Lukaku was substituted, unable to continue after hitting his knee on Lloris’s head.
Sam Borden of the New York Times recently wrote about this incident and made two comparative suggestions to how the NFL handles concussion issues.
The first suggestion was allowing for a temporary substitute to replace the injured player while he is thoroughly examined for eligibility to return to the game.
In the article, Borden mentions the NFL’s concussion exam, which takes roughly 15 minutes away from the field and in the presence of an independent doctor not associated with the team.
That suggestion spurred images of players flopping all over the pitch, clutching their heads and being carried off the field only to sit up immediately while the temporary sub looks to change the pace of the game.
Flopping and faking injuries is already a prevalent distraction and annoying interruption to the flow of play and this suggestion only seems to increase the incidents.
Take this upcoming weekend’s game between Arsenal and Manchester United with the suggestion applied. Note, as respected as these two clubs are, one would hope the scenario that is about to unfold is well beyond them.
A draw is looming at Old Trafford as both teams seem unable to create anything in their opponent’s half. Arsenal has settled in a bit at the back and it looks like United have given up trying to penetrate Arsenal’s back line. Arsene Wenger likes how his team is defending but wonders if maybe he can steal three points away, but hesitates to make a substitution as not to compromise his defense.
Suddenly Arteta takes a hard foul in the 72nd minute and rolls around clutching his face in agony. Wenger finds a chance to make his move.
Arteta comes out “temporarily” to be examined by doctors to decide if he’s fit enough to return. Meanwhile, Theo Walcott, who did not start because he has been out for weeks, makes his first appearance since having surgery. Aaron Ramsey drops back to take Arteta’s spot and Walcott comes in on the outside.
Arsenal steal a goal due to Walcott’s blistering pace seven minutes later and wouldn’t you know it, Arteta seems fine to come back in.
Arteta’s return shores up the back for the waning minutes of the game and the temporary sub has given Arsenal a goal and a win at Old Trafford.
This is a slightly exaggerated scenario but it must be noted this would be a strategic attribute waiting to be taken advantage of. Coaches would be able to “test out” a substitute and gauge his immediate impact if a player who suffered a head injury has to be examined for 15 minutes.
But Borden may be on to something.
Leagues could add an extra roster spot to teams. The roster spot would be occupied by a Designated Injury Substitute. This player is decided on before the first whistle and may only come on when a player is being examined for a head injury and will not count as a substitution. If the injured player is deemed unable to return, the DIP then has to be substituted for.
The DIP may not come on as a substitute. He is only on the field for the time it takes doctors to decide if the injured player is fit or not. The only exception would be a goalie for a goalie like in Lloris’s case.
This would keep a team from playing with a man down and trying to rush the diagnosis on a player.
No professional athlete wants to come out of a game and let their team down. That was the case with Lloris. Brad Friedel was ready to come in. The stretcher was out on the field. He had no reason to continue but the decision was left to the player, a player who had just been knocked out cold by a knee to the head.
If the DIP had been implemented, André Villas-Boas would have had the time to determine Lloris’s health without compromising his team. He should have probably made the substitution regardless, which leads to Borden’s second suggestion.
An independent doctor should be present to diagnose the head injuries. Villas-Boas is not a doctor. Lloris had his brain still bouncing around in his head. The doctor tells the coach whether a player is fit and the coach decides how to react.
Borden’s main point is recognizing acts like this should not be hailed as heroic. Franz Beckenbauer’s arm in a sling was heroic. Lloris playing through a head injury is reckless. An injured limb will not leave you with dementia, suicidal or a vegetable.