Relax, Florida's Doing Right by Tim Tebow

Football players get concussions all the time. It just seems remarkable to me that this injury has suddenly got the spotlight because someone on the Florida Gators has one. I mean, I didn't realize that folks cared so much about Moses Jenkins' contributions on special teams.

What's that? Oh right, Tim Tebow got one as well. If all the ruckus about concussions since Saturday was entirely about concussions, then certainly someone would be asking questions about Jenkins' health too, how his baseline test compares to his current condition, and whether he will see the field against LSU.

But I get it that it's not just about concussions. The face of college football has a blurry brain behind it, and that's a huge story on a large number of levels. It is indeed a teaching moment for the entire football world that doesn't take concussions as seriously as it should. They are brain injuries, and neurons are the only kinds of cells our bodies can't mass produce in replacement of injured ones.

I've long given up on the idea that the coverage of stories in both the media and blogosphere will completely make sense. In the case of Tebow's concussion, all of the focus has either been on one of two questions: can Tebow play against LSU, and should Tebow play against LSU? Much of the attempts to answer those questions have come from sound bites, some of which are contained in this Slate article, from coaches and players praising Tebow's toughness. Some of Urban Meyer's sound bites about thinking Tebow could play and how he looks "terrific" are popular copy as well.

Somehow, there's a movement out there that took all of those and decided that it means that Tebow is definitely going to play against LSU and that it is a Bad Thing. Obviously him playing before he's fully recovered is a bad thing, and it would send the wrong message to a football community that, again, doesn't take concussions as seriously as it should.

But rather than focus on one-liners, can we actually take a look at what Florida is doing to evaluate his health?

He's in good hands.

For one thing, the University of Florida is home to the McKnight Brain Institute. It's one of the largest brain research centers in the world, and I have no doubt that the policies that the UF medical staff has regarding concussions has been influenced by the research that gets conducted there. You can bet the understanding of brain injuries there is among the most sophisticated of all sports programs.

The medical staff is prepared.

Everyone on the UF team took baseline concussion tests in June. I don't know if all college football programs do that (and I sure hope they do), but it's a sign that they don't take concussions lightly.

He's not practicing. Or doing anything much of anything else.

The only way we know of to treat concussion is time and rest. Appropriately, Tebow has been held out of practice this week. That's not all though, because it's not just about physical rest. Mental rest is a part of it too. You can bet his mental faculties aren't being taxed by his sole course, the senior seminar, but he also was told not to read or watch TV. That means he has not been watching film on LSU (as revealed by Meyer in his post-practice interview on Tuesday) or doing any other game preparation. The TV and reading ban lifted today, but it hasn't been reported whether he's been doing football-related work.

Nothing is being decided this week.

Tebow won't be allowed to practice until he has a full week of symptom-free rest. According to Meyer in that Tuesday press conference, Tebow was still having headaches (a concussion symptom) that day. That means the earliest he could possibly practice is next Tuesday. If a decision on whether he can practice won't be made until next week, you can bet that a decision on him playing won't be either.

If he's truly not ready, he won't play.

There's not a chance in the world that Tebow will play if the medical staff refuses to clear him. There is precedent for Meyer sitting one of his A++ players in an important situation: last year's SEC Championship Game. The medical staff worked all week to get Percy Harvin ready to play, but ultimately he was not cleared and did not play.

Now, of course a high ankle sprain is a completely different category of injury than a concussion and losing a receiver is not the same thing as losing your quarterback. However, Harvin is up there with Tebow and Brandon Spikes in terms of importance and how much the coaching staff loves players. The coaches didn't overrule the medical staff on Harvin, and it won't on Tebow either.

I've got the telecast from Saturday recorded. Tebow was definitely knocked out, because he wouldn't ignore offensive linemen tugging at his jersey. How long he was knocked out is impossible to tell because the trainers were on the scene and talking to him so quickly and, for fear of a serious neck injury, probably instructed him not to move. If he was out for less than a minute, than it might be only a Grade II concussion. In that case, he could safely play against LSU provided he had more than a week of not having any symptoms.

If it was a Grade III concussion, we likely won't find out until next Saturday because of Meyer's natural predilection towards secrecy in regards to injuries and the importance of the LSU game. The team and Tebow's family will know what's going on, but few others will as well in order to make LSU have to prepare for two different offenses. The only sign any of us will get of his status is his presence on the pracice field, which will indicate a Grade II and seven consecutive symptom free days.

It would send a good message if Tebow was held out of the LSU game, but if he plays, it's not the end of the world. A top flight medical staff with resources including a world-class brain research facility are tending to his health. If all of those PhDs say he can go, there's no reason why he shouldn't. There still can be a message sent to young footballers even if he does go: he took a laundry list of precautions while being tended to by a dozen doctors. If he's that careful about it, you should you be too.

And after all of this runs its course, there will still be guys like Moses Jenkins who are dealing with concussions outside the sport's limelight. Let's try not to forget about them too.

The Bottom Line (adapted from my comment below)

It's true that football people need to see a concussion as more than just a standard old injury. However, focusing solely on the play/don't play decision makes it sound like just that: a standard old injury. You focus on a play/don't play decision with every ankle sprain and bruised elbow too.

The focus should not be on whether he plays but on the process that leads to that decision: the baseline test, the daily post-concussion tests, and the regime of both physical and mental rest. Making the issue solely about whether he appears on the field in Baton Rouge could send the message that it doesn't matter what a concussion patient does during the week as long as he doesn't play. That's the exact opposite of true, as it's the rest and rehabilitation that happens every day after a concussion that makes the difference to a player's health, not just what he does on game day.

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