Widespread reporting about concussions has made us all smarter about the topic. We'll always watch the games a bit differently because of it.
On Thursday night, USC receiver Robert Woods got drilled by a Utah player while blocking on a punt return and was knocked to the turf. When he got up he stumbled around, looking dazed, and after a few steps he fell face first into the turf at midfield. Fans, who might have ignorantly laughed before, are now trained to know that Woods had concussion symptoms. Just like we're trained to roll our eyes when we see Arizona Cardinals running back Ryan Williams apparently get knocked cold against the Rams on Thursday night, go limp and fall face first into the turf but hear the team term it a "shoulder injury."
But the problem is, while we have more knowledge about concussions, we can't know everything that is going on inside a player's head.
USC's athletic trainers and doctors looked at Woods on the sideline. They let him back in after one play:
"For him to go back into the game, a lot of guys would have stayed out awhile," USC coach Lane Kiffin said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "That shows what kind of tough kid he is."
We're supposed to look at remarks like that as old-school foolery. It's not tough to play through a concussion. Brain injuries can't be handled that way anymore.
But do we really know what happened? Woods got a concussion test from as many as seven USC trainers and doctors and "laughed through it," Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wrote. Woods came back and played fine, putting on his usual array of great moves and even scoring a touchdown in USC's 38-28 win, even after he did his midfield face plant.
"That was funny. That was actually pretty funny," said [USC receiver] Marqise Lee to ESPN.com about Woods falling.
Isn't that insensitive in this new era of concussion awareness? Or was Woods really OK and our eyes deceived us?
The ESPN.com report said Woods was asked three questions: Who is the current president? What is the date today? What is 100 minus 7, minus 7, minus 7? He got all the questions right. The USC athletic training staff ruled he didn't have a concussion. But what about what we saw -- remember, the stumbling and falling after the hard hit?
Later Kyrah McCowan, the executive assistant to Kiffin, tweeted a picture of Woods viewing a replay of the play, to watch "how he got knocked out," during the game.
"There's no way you're gonna have Robert sit on the bench, no matter what it is," Lee told ESPN.com.
Woods told ESPN.com he "couldn't see. And then I fell." Nothing in that report indicates Woods wasn't lucid after the game or that he appeared to be still feeling the effects of the hit. None of the team of doctors and athletic trainers on USC's sideline put up enough of a fight to keep Woods out of the game for more than a play. It's one thing for a coach to want a player back in the game, but all of those reported seven USC medical personnel have their professional reputations on the line if they knowingly let Woods back in the game with a concussion after just one play off (although, no matter what caused Woods to collapse, it still seems very dangerous and irresponsible to put him back in the game right away).
Woods and Lee got a good chuckle out of it. But it's tough to laugh it all off when we know what was on our television screens and what we've learned about the dangers of playing through concussions.
Here's just hoping we didn't see what it looked like we saw, and Woods didn't play most of Thursday night's game after being concussed.
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