I watched the first NFL game of the 2016-17 season the other night, with Denver beating Carolina 21-20. Both teams played well, and I’d be shocked if both of team aren’t in the 12-team playoff field come January.
The one thing I noticed in the second half is that Cam Newton, the star Carolina quarterback who led the Panthers to the Super Bowl last season, was looking more and more unlike himself as the game progressed. He got into a shoving match with a Denver player trying to pump the crowd up in the first half, and should have been penalized for it in my view.
He was getting hit in the helmet by Denver rushers leading with their helmets on at least four occasions. The helmet-to-helmet contact should have been penalties on the Denver defense, but several such incidents went uncalled. Newton was looked at for possible back and ankle injuries, but kept playing through the barrage of battering he was getting.
After the game, he couldn’t remember the final drive that resulted in a missed field goal that would have given Carolina the win. That reminded me of an HBO fight back in the 1980’s I watched when a boxer named Marlon Starling got knocked out on a punch that didn’t land until after the bell for the end of a round had sounded. He then couldn’t recall being knocked out when interviewed after the fight. (Initially, it was ruled Starling had lost the 1988 fight, though the decision later became a no-contest, a ruling rarely used in the sport when something takes place beyond the control of the fighters.)
The NFL has a “concussion protocol” system in place so that players under the suspicion of being concussed during a game can be looked at. It was revealed after the game that no one bothered to look at Cam. Why? Because he’s a star player? In that case, doesn’t the protocol hinder better players and help protect the weaker gladiators? (It was revealed later on Friday that to physicians at the game, Newton didn’t show any symptoms of a concussion.)
I get football is a physical game, and a violent one at that. But it’s clear to me that the current system is very flawed. Thursday night was quite an example of the loopholes in the present scheme of things. The last and only death on an NFL field was when Chuck Hughes of the Detroit Lions died on October 24, 1971 of a heart attack in the middle of a game. I was a little over a month and a half old when that happened. I truly hope it’s not about to happen again.