This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series In the Training Room

Austin Collie is helped off the field after suffering another concussion

After sitting out 3 games to recover from previous concussion symptoms, Austin Collie roared back to the field on Sunday, catching 8 passes for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Unfortunately, he would make another early exit as Jacksonville LB Daryl Smith’s forearm caught Collie’s neck awkwardly on an attempted seam route, resulting in yet another concussion.

One of the debates raging amongst fans and analysts right now is whether this was Collie’s second or third concussion.  The team has been careful to classify this as his second, labelling his exit from the Patriots game as being due to a recurrence of symptoms from the original concussion suffered in the Eagles game.  There are fans who believe that, because Collie was medically cleared to play in the Patriots game, an early exit due to concussion-like symptoms is tantamount to a separate concussion, thus making this most recent one his third.

To all of these arguments, I say… what does it matter? 

The truth is that Collie has now been exposed to multiple incidents of significant brain trauma in a short period of time, jeopardizing his season at the very least.  Why quibble over whether this was concussion number 2, 3 or 12?  One could probably make an argument that every time a football player is tackled, he suffers a concussion, however minor… the brain floats in the skull and is jostled at least a little bit.

Think about earthquakes.  (Having lived in California most of my life, I think about them a lot!)  Geophysicists carefully classify earthquakes as “main shocks,” i.e., an original disruption along a fault line; or “aftershocks,” i.e., a follow-on disruption that was triggered by the original one.  Aftershocks can sometimes occur minutes, weeks or even years after the original quake… and can sometimes be of higher magnitude than the original (technically reclassifying the original as a foreshock, but work with me here).

Here’s the thing… to the homeowner, freeway driver or office tenant, whether an earthquake is classified as a main shock or “just an aftershock,” knick-knacks are still falling off the shelves, bridges are still collapsing and buildings are still swaying back and forth.  It does not matter one bit how some university scientist classifies the event… the impact can still be devastating, and the first quake can weaken the infrastructure enough that it is more vulnerable to a second or third quake until it is fully repaired.

Obviously, the long-term personal impacts of concussions cannot be compared to that of earthquakes, but I drew the analogy to argue a point… what matters more than whether Collie has suffered 2 or 3 concussions is whether he will have time to fully recover and make a determination of how to proceed with his career.

Some will argue that it DOES matter, that there is BLAME to be laid at someone’s feet for trotting Collie out “too soon.”  The reality is that doctors simply don’t know enough about concussions – or the human body in general - to ever be 100% certain how a given individual will respond.  I trust that the independent medical staff set a conservative threshold for clearing him based on the available research.  The issue is that there simply isn’t enough information or technology yet to know when the player is fully ready after the first shock.

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