Survey: 42 percent of trainers pressured to OK concussed players

A survey of major college football trainers by the Chronicle of Higher Education has found that more than 40 percent of them have been pressured by coaches to "return an athlete to the field even after he suffered a concussion."

That's just one tidbit from the Chronicle's wide-ranging report on the often-fractious relationship between trainers and coaches at the NCAA's highest level of play. Of the 101 FBS "head athletic trainers, head football trainers, and other sports-medicine professionals" to respond to the Chronicle survey, 42 reported the conflict over concussion clearances, while 53 "said they had felt pressure from football coaches to return a student to play faster than they thought was in his best interest medically."

Another 32 said "a member of the football coaching staff had influence over hiring and firing decisions for their position."

The Chronicle illustrated those survey results with reports from several FBS football programs, including Washington State, where sources told the publication Mike Leach and then-head trainer Bill Drake clashed over concussion management during the 2012 season; at an unnamed Big East program, where a trainer (who would later lose his job) said he confiscated a concussed player's helmet only for the head coach to threaten to give him another; and at Western Kentucky , where head trainer Danny Cobble was fired after drawing the ire of new head coach Bobby Petrino.

From the story:

Mr. Cobble says the coach also questioned his medical abilities, was impatient with return-to-play times, and pushed back on physicians' decisions.

Things boiled over, Mr. Cobble says, after a doctor ordered surgery for an injured player. When Mr. Cobble shared the news with Coach Petrino, he says the coach suggested treating the injury with cortisone. The player got a second opinion but ultimately had the surgery. (Through a spokesperson, Mr. Petrino declined to comment) ...

A few weeks later, Mr. Cobble was called into a meeting with Mr. [Bill] Edwards, his supervisor, and Todd Stewart, the athletic director, to discuss his future with the program. He was subsequently fired.

He wishes that Mr. Stewart, who would not comment on a personnel matter, had done more to stand up for him.

"He had a choice," Mr. Cobble says, "and truthfully, I think he went with the million-dollar deal instead of what's right."

This is, of course, only one side to this story, something that goes for the Chronicle's reports from other locations as well. But it seems difficult to argue with the story's conclusion that too many coaches are far too willing to second-guess qualified medical opinion and prioritize short-term success over the players' long-term health. (Sad to say, does that even qualify as a surprise?) And if the NCAA wants to truly do right by its players' health, further steps are needed to ensure the decisions made by trainers and other medical personnel are the ones that count.

For more, we strongly suggest reading the entire Chronicle article.

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