I regularly hear from fans of the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets who believe that the home teams do not get a fair shake from referees and officials. The more conspiracy-minded contend that the Panthers and Hornets are penalized because Charlotte is a mid-sized city.
Most conspiracies are fantasies, and this one is, too. Officials don’t go into games favoring opponents of Carolina and Charlotte. There is no inherent bias against the home teams.
But the Carolina fans I heard from are accurate when they say that officials failed to properly protect Newton in Thursday’s NFL opener. He took, what, four helmet-to-helmet shots to the head in the second half? Not many of us planned to go into the season wincing as we watched the opener. But many of us did.
I suffered a concussion in Baltimore in 2014 and missed three months of work. When I’d get to a curb, I’d pause, not knowing what to do with my feet. I was talking to friends at a party and used the word “array.” I stopped in mid-sentence because I couldn’t remember if array was a word.
The NFL can’t eliminate head trauma from football. But it can reduce it by insisting that officials immediately throw a flag when a player is hit in the head. The league failed miserably Thursday.
Is Newton treated differently because of his size? And did the Panthers follow concussion protocol by leaving him in the game? Neither the spotters nor neurologist at the stadium – none of whom are affiliated with either team – chose to stop the game to check on Newton.
Brains are fragile. If the league is serious about its intent to protect players, it has to act.