Neurologist lauds new NFL injury rule

TEMPE, Ariz. -- A safety rule instituted earlier this week by NFL owners, which gives trainers at every game the authority to stop a contest if they think a player needs to be evaluated for a head injury, is being celebrated by some in the sports-medicine world.

Dr. Javier Cardenas, a neurologist in Phoenix who is the independent neurological consultant on the sideline for the Arizona Cardinals' home games, said the new rule is a major advancement for sports medicine.

"In my opinion, this is the biggest thing for sports medicine that has come out," said Cardenas, a Barrow Neurological Institute doctor who is on the NFL head, neck and spine committee. "Where else do you have a medical provider that actually is calling a timeout in any other sport? None. None. Huge for sports medicine."

Under the new rule, if the certified athletic trainer, who'll be sitting in a booth above the field as a spotter, sees a player who needs medical attention, he or she can use the official-to-official communication system to notify the side judge, who will then stop the game.

The purpose of the new rule is to allow Cardenas and other independent consultants at games throughout the league to evaluate players almost immediately after a big hit.

Here are details of the rule when the game is stopped for a medical timeout:

• The game and play clock will stop (if running) and remain frozen until the player is removed from the game.

• Both clocks will start again from the same point unless the play clock was inside 10 seconds, in which case it will be reset to 10.

• The team of the player being removed will have an opportunity to replace him with a substitute, and the opponent will have an opportunity to match up as necessary.

• No communication via coach-to-player headsets will be permitted during the stoppage; no member of the coaching staff may enter the playing field.

• No player other than the player receiving medical attention may go to the sideline unless he has been replaced by a substitute player.

If the independent neurological consultant on the sideline witnesses a head-to-head or head-to-ground hit, or sees a player come off the field looking dazed, the consultant will have the ability to contact the trainer in the booth. Then the trainer can call down to the side judge to stop the action and request that a player be taken out of the game.

"This has been an issue, a big issue, for the NFL for a number of years," Cardenas said. "You could argue why they're doing what they're doing, whether it's lawsuits, whether it's public perception, but regardless of why they're doing it, they're addressing every single angle."

The rule was partly a result of a hit on New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman during Super Bowl XLIX in February. After a blow by Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, Edelman looked disoriented but didn't leave the field, nor was he immediately evaluated.

Cardenas was working as the independent consultant on Seattle's sideline during Super Bowl XLIX and said he evaluated six or seven Seahawks that game, including defensive end Cliff Avril, who left the game in the third quarter and did not return.

Cardenas couldn't comment specifically on Edelman's situation, but said every player who showed any signs of head trauma was evaluated during the game.

"What you can correctly argue is the timing of the evaluation," Cardenas said.

Under the new rule the Super Bowl would've been stopped, and Edelman would've been removed from the game and then evaluated for a concussion. He may not have returned, which could've altered the course of the game because he caught the go-ahead touchdown with about 2 minutes left.

"This program is a very good program for evaluating athletes," Cardenas said. "It's a very good program for spotting for injuries. But there are always things that can make programs better, and the move that's been made by the (owners) is a positive one. It's a good one to make this program better."