I was there. Sitting in section 614 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, I watched as Saints tight end Jimmy Graham lay partially prone on the Superdome turf. Just moments earlier Graham had taken a vicious hit to the head from Redskins safety Madieu Williams (pictured right), one that drew not one, but four different flags from the replacement officials working yesterday’s game. The call was an easy one to make, as Williams left his feet and launched himself at Graham’s head. As the referees conferenced about applying the penalty, the Saints medical staff jogged out to the middle of the field to check on the clearly “dinged” Graham. Then something the NFL front office will probably gasp at happened. Graham stood up, literally seemed to try and “shake off” the hit, and then told the Saints medical staff to hit the road.
At first the Saints medical staff looked unsure as to what to do. They kind of lingered about with the rest of the Saints players as the penalty was announced to the crowd. Then, they gave Graham his wish and retreated back to the sideline. The officials calling the penalty and those still lingering about elsewhere on the field went back to their positions, and less than a minute later the Saints were running their next play.
Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying that Graham was in any way concussed. Perhaps he truly was just “shaking off” the effects of a hard hit, while suffering no potential brain or neck injury. But the problem is that both the officials and, more importantly, the Saints medical staff allowed Graham to remain in the game for the next play.
Last October the league’s full-time officials were educated by the league about how to spot concussion symptoms and how to alert NFL training staffs to potential concerns about a player. In fact, in Roger Goodell’s in-depth profile by CBS’s 60 Minutes, the league highlighted how good a job the “regular” officials had done in removing a potentially concussed player from the game. In this particular case involving Graham, however, the replacement officials made no effort whatsoever to review the condition of Graham. This despite four officials peppering the area around Graham will yellow flags. While it isn’t the place of the official to make snap calls on a player’s health, it’s clear they failed the NFL in its goal of “protecting players from themselves.”
Even more of a failing though was that of the Saints medical staff. Believe me, no one knows more than myself how valuable Jimmy Graham is to the Saints, especially yesterday in a situation where the team was trying to rally late from a deficit. But a player’s health has to come first, and anyone involved in the NFL will tell you as much. By allowing Graham to literally run them off the field, the training staff failed not only the NFL head honchos, it also failed Graham. Even if Graham was merely kept off the field for one play to examine his symptoms, the result would have been on the order of 100-times better. Instead the Saints and the league (by way of the replacement officials) allowed a player to put himself at further risk.
In the end I hope, and potentially even expect, Graham is just fine. But that doesn’t excuse the actions of both the officials and the Saints training staff in yesterday’s closing moments of the game.