As a Chargers fan, I've had it pretty rough for the last few years.
I've witnessed multiple seasons of inferiority due to playing down to the competition and dropping easily winnable games. Last year the Chargers lost to the teams with the three worst records in football (Texans, Redskins, Raiders) but still managed to make it into the playoffs, where a failure to stop the Broncos on a 3rd and 17 ended their season. The Chargers have collapsed multiple times, and are yet to win a Superbowl despite having more than enough talent on their roster in previous years to do so.
However, none of that makes me more upset than what occurred last night.
On the very first play of the game, Chargers SS Jahleel Addae collides head first with Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders and collapses into a heap.
Addae was taken off the field and given the usual concussion checks before being allowed back onto the field. He resumed playing until the third quarter.
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Midway through the third quarter, he delivers a seemingly minor hit to the Broncos ballcarrier. It's the type of play that happens multiple times a game. However, the aftermath of the hit was anything but minor.
Addae staggers around the field, convulsing involuntarily. It had all the signs of a major brain injury, and it was possible that he may even have suffered a seizure.
Social media exploded immediately after, with videos of Addae's scary loss of control being posted all over Twitter.
Amazingly, the Chargers let Addae carry on.
It was obvious to every single person watching the game at home that Addae wasn't in a fit state to be playing. In fact, he wasn't in a fit state to do anything except head straight back into the locker room and get fully checked out.
Unfortunately, it wasn't obvious to the Chargers staff, as Addae continued to play the majority of the snaps for the rest of the game - even when the Chargers had no hope of mounting a comeback. They were keeping him in there, exposing his head to even more damage - for the sake of a game that had become meaningless.
In 2011, San Diego's LG Kris Dielman suffered a concussion in a loss to the New York Jets. They kept him in the game, and he had a seizure on the flight back home. He never played again.
The NFL's concussion policy has been widely scrutinized recently - most noticeably this week, when Jamaal Charles and Brandon Flowers collided. Flowers was obviously concussed, but like with Addae the Chargers staff bought him back out for a series before taking him out of the game. Charles said to reporters after the game that he had concussion like symptoms, but didn't want to report them for fear of being taken out of the game.
It's doubtful if Addae even knew he suffered a major brain injury. Many times a player gets concussed and doesn't know it themselves. In the 2014 World Cup final, Cristoph Kramer suffered a blow to the head early on in the game, and despite asking the referee if they were playing in the final, he didn't realize that he had suffered a concussion.
Who is to blame?
The emphasis can't be on the players to tell the training staff if they think they're concussed. The moment a player takes a hit to the head of any force, they need to be taken off the field and evaluated. If there's even a shadow of a doubt, that player simply can't be allowed to rejoin the game. The costs are too high.
Take the case of Derek Sheely, a 22 year old college football player who tragically died as the result of multiple concussions. He was sent back into practice drills in which the aim was to hit someone as hard as they could in the head - without a helmet. The NCAA were sued as a result. I can only hope that it doesn't take something similar for the NFL to wake up and re-evaluate their concussion policy.
Right now, there's a mentality in the league that winning means everything, and to go off injured is like turning your back on your team. Coaches don't like it when players have to leave the game, which in turn leads to less players reporting injuries like these. The NFL simply has to take a stand, and start punishing teams for allowing a player who may have a concussion back into the game.
We still don't know if Addae has suffered any long lasting damage as a result of last night, but it's unfortunately quite possible. Make no mistake about it - Addae could potentially have died as a result of being put back into the game after that concussion/seizure.
Football's just a game. It's not worth risking someone's life over.