With 5:53 left in Thursday night’s Browns-Steelers game, quarterback Colt McCoy scrambled to his left and released a pass just before linebacker James Harrison lowered his head and hit McCoy directly in the helmet.
McCoy remained prone on the field for a minute or two and made his way to the sideline, but shockingly, he only missed a couple of plays, returning to the field minutes later. As the NFL Network cameras focused in on McCoy in the shotgun, he looked dazed, as if his mind was not in the same place as his body, and anyone who’s paid attention to head injuries in the past couple of years likely noticed that something was wrong.
McCoy’s bad interception two plays later (and two interceptions in the final drive that were reversed via replay review) added to those suspicions, but it was Friday that McCoy’s father confirmed them.
“I talked to Colt this morning and he said, ‘Dad, I don’t know what happened, but I know I lost the game. I know I let the team down. What happened?'” Brad McCoy told The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.
Watching at home, you had to wonder how in the world McCoy was allowed back in the game, and his father felt the same way, 10 times over.
“He never should’ve gone back in the game,” Brad told the newspaper. “He was basically out [cold] after the hit. You could tell by the rigidity of his body as he [was] laying there. There were a lot of easy symptoms that should’ve told [the Browns] he had a concussion. He was nauseated and he didn’t know who he was. From what I could see, they didn’t test him for a concussion on the sidelines. They looked at his [left] hand.”
The comments are enough to send chills down anyone’s spine, but they’re not entirely surprising.
Despite the wealth of information that continues to come out about the significance of head injuries and the damage they can cause, players are always going to try to “tough it out.” Rob Gronkowski said on national television a few weeks ago that he’d hide concussion symptoms if he had to. Todd Heap missed just a few minutes of playing time after taking a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from Brandon Meriweather.
It’s in their nature to find a way back on the field, and it’s the responsibility of doctors and trainers to make sure they don’t. All too often, we’ve seen the McCoys and Heaps return to the game, while we don’t see trainers taking away Michael Vick‘s helmet nearly enough.
That concept may fly in the face of traditional, hard-nosed football fans who value smashmouth over brain health, but it doesn’t matter. You can’t read Malcolm Gladwell‘s 7,800 words from The New Yorker, or John Branch‘s three-part feature in The New York Times on the late Derek Boogard, or Ted Johnson‘s 2007 admissions to The Boston Globe, or any of the many other stories from recent years and think otherwise.
Despite all of this, Browns coach Pat Shurmur told the media that McCoy was fine, an assessment that enraged Brad further.
“After the game, the [public relations staff] made sure Colt’s interview was brief and he couldn’t face the lights in his press conference,” Brad told The Plain Dealer. “The T.V. lights and the stadium lights were killing him. Why would you say he was fine? That makes it even worse.
“Josh Cribbs suffered a groin injury earlier in the game and he was out for the rest of the game,” Brad McCoy added. “Colt takes a severe hit like that and he’s back in the game a play later? If he took another blow to the head, we could’ve been talking about his career here.”
Thankfully, we’re not, and hopefully, we’ll be talking about McCoy taking some weeks off in the near future.
It’s frightening any time a story such as Colt McCoy’s surfaces, but thanks to people like his father who aren’t afraid to speak out, the chances of a terrible tragedy taking place become that much smaller.