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Coby Fleener Stayed in the Game After a Scary Hit to the Head

The NFL has seen at least two other similar incidents in the past month

Baltimore Ravens v New Orleans Saints Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Saints tight end Coby Fleener suffered a scary helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, but in what appears to be a breach of the NFL’s concussion protocol, he remained in the game.

Fleener was speared by Rams defensive back Blake Countess on a second-and-10 pass over the middle. Countess was flagged on the play for hitting a defenseless receiver, but Fleener did not stay down and timeout was not called. He remained in the game, and he even garnered a target from quarterback Drew Brees, which he dropped. He later left the game and was diagnosed with a concussion, according to the CBS broadcast.

The NFL concussion protocol, which was implemented in 2009 and adjusted in the years after, requires players suspected of suffering a concussion to be immediately removed from the game for evaluation on the sideline. A player can only return to the game after being cleared by both a team doctor and an independent neurological consultant. Training staff on both sidelines and a league “spotter” in the booth look for players exhibiting signs of a head injury on the field, and referees can stop the game to send potentially concussed players to be evaluated. Despite suffering a hit that earned a 15-yard penalty, Fleener was not immediately checked for a concussion.

The NFL concussion protocol has been scrutinized this month. The Seahawks reportedly violated it in Week 10 when quarterback Russell Wilson was sent to be evaluated after a hit to the head against the Arizona Cardinals but reentered the game before anyone could check him. Wilson was not concussed. The same week, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett remained in a game against the Steelers after a hit to the head from Pittsburgh defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Brissett passed the concussion evaluation on the sideline, but exhibited symptoms after the game and entered the protocol. The Colts were on a bye last week, but Brissett cleared the concussion protocol this week and started Sunday against the Titans.

The league announced an investigation into the Wilson incident but has not said whether it will take action against the Colts. The NFL can fine teams $150,000 or take away draft picks for their first violation of the concussion protocol.

Players who suffer a second hit to their head while still healing from a concussion can experience second-impact syndrome, which can lead to potentially fatal brain bleeding.

Fleener has been diagnosed with at least one concussion, which he suffered in 2013 while playing for the Colts. Last month, Fleener joined the athlete advisory board of a company developing technology to diagnose brain injuries on the sideline better.