A joint review by the NFL and NFLPA of the Carolina Panthers’ handling of quarterback Cam Newton following a big hit in a playoff loss at New Orleans determined the Panthers did not violate the league’s concussion protocol.
Officials determined that eye and knee injuries contributed to Newton appearing unstable after the fourth-quarter hit against the Saints, and found the Panthers’ medical staff’s evaluation of Newton followed protocol, according to a statement released by the NFL on Wednesday.
The league’s enhanced protocol requires players who demonstrate gross motor instability or a significant loss of balance to be evaluated for a concussion in the locker room.
The Panthers checked Newton for a concussion in the sideline medical tent before clearing him to return to the game.
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After being drilled by Saints defensive tackle David Oneymata, Newton started walking to the sideline while pointing toward his eye. Newton then went to the ground awkwardly while being met by members of the medical staff before reaching the sideline.
The NFL says Newton was following directions – delivered by former quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey through Newton’s helmet transmitter – to take a knee. He went down awkwardly because of a right knee injury the Panthers evaluated during the third quarter, according to the NFL’s statement.
An MRI of Newton’s knee the day after the game revealed ligament and cartilage damage and “very extensive swelling,” according to the league.
Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said Wednesday that while the MRI showed Newton injured his knee, he will not require surgery.
Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told the Observer that Newton could not fully bend his right knee, which caused him to go to the ground “in a somewhat awkward fashion.”
But Sills said Newton did not show any of the signs that would have warranted a locker room evaluation.
“Gross motor instability does not mean that you take a knee and go to the ground. Gross motor instability is reflective of dysfunction of the cerebellum, the balance center in the brain, where someone cannot even keep a vertical posture. And that’s clearly not what happened in this case,” Sills said in a phone interview.
“It’s very straightforward. There was no gross motor instability here,” Sills added. “He voluntarily went to the ground at the direction of the coaching staff, and he had a knee injury that prevented him from doing so in a standard manner.
“It was never our intent that every player who takes a knee on the field needs a concussion evaluation in the locker room. That’s not what gross motor instability means.”
The players union also issued a statement Wednesday supporting the treatment Newton received from the Panthers and the independent medical staff.
“Our review of all of the facts do not support a claim of inappropriate medical care. Mr. Newton was immediately evaluated for a concussion and cleared by the team physician and unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant,” the union said in its statement. “We will continue to advocate for improvements to and strict compliance with all health and safety protocols for NFL players.”
Panthers officials maintained they acted properly in their treatment of Newton, who told reporters after the Jan. 7 game that his helmet slid down and injured his eye following the hit.
“It wasn’t my head. It was my eye. My helmet had come down low enough over my eyelid and it got pressed by the player’s stomach, I believe,” Newton said. “I thought somebody had stuck a finger in my eye, but I’ve got a visor so that couldn’t happen.”
The NFL said Newton sustained an abrasion over his right eye and “foreign matter” in his eye – presumably particles from the artificial turf – as a result of the tackle.
Interim general manager Marty Hurney was confident the Panthers had handled Newton’s situation correctly.
“We did everything the right way,” Hurney said the day after the game.
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Newton’s situation against the Saints highlights the challenges media members and “armchair experts” face when trying to draw medical conclusions based on television replays of big hits and collisions.
“People are making judgments about this without all the facts and without a full understanding of some of the medical determinations that are made,” Lockhart told the Observer.
“Sitting at home watching it on TV without a full understanding of this and without the medical background leaves you in a place where you should not draw conclusions and you should wait for all the facts.”