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How Stephen Curry's Nasty Fall Put Spotlight On NBA's Concussion Protocol

27 May 2015, 11:49 am EDT By Mark Lelinwalla Tech Times
Stephen Curry's nasty fall Monday night triggered plenty of questions for the NBA's concussion protocol. We take a closer look at the process.  ( Bob Levey | Getty Images Sport )

Stephen Curry's nasty fall on Monday night reminded everyone that basketball is still very much a contact sport.

The NBA MVP suffered a backward fall on his head, neck and back while attempting to block a layup with 5:52 left in the second quarter of Game 4 between the Houston Rockets and his Golden State Warriors. Curry laid face down for several minutes, before rising and walking off the court under his own power.

The 27-year-old sharpshooter went through the league's concussion protocol twice, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News, before being cleared to return midway through the third quarter after an hour of being off the court.

The NBA's concussion policy states: "If a player is suspected of having a concussion, or exhibits the signs or symptoms of concussion, they will be removed from participation and undergo evaluation by the medical staff in a quiet, distraction-free environment conducive to conducting a neurological evaluation."

Furthermore: "The return to participation protocol involves several steps of increasing exertion — from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to noncontact team drills. With each step, a player must be symptom free to move to the next step. If a player is not symptom free after a step, he stops until he is symptom free and begins again at the previous step of the protocol (i.e., the last step he passed without any symptoms)."

Upon passing the protocol twice, Curry was diagnosed with a head contusion and allowed to return to the game. When Curry stepped back onto the court, he missed seven of his next 11 shots, but still managed to finish with 23 points. Curry is also scheduled to start Game 5 of the Rockets-Warriors' playoff series on Wednesday night.

The fact that the fall was so scary and involved the newly crowned NBA MVP paved the way for questions to be raised about the league's concussion guidelines almost immediately. Out of the four major North American sports leagues - including the NFL, NHL and MLB - the NBA has the least-recorded number of concussions. In 2014, nine players were concussed in the league. That's in comparison to 111 concussions in the NFL and 53 concussions in the NHL during their respective 2014 seasons. (Those numbers were down from what each of the two leagues had in 2013). In 2013, 23 players were concussed in the MLB.

Despite Curry passing the league's concussion protocol twice, before re-entering the game Monday night, Dr. Ben Wedro, an emergency physician at the Gundersen Clinic in La Crosse, Wis., and writer for MDDirect.org, would have liked to see the MVP sit out for at least the remainder of that game. He also suggests that the NBA take a strong look at its protocol.

His main reasoning? Symptoms of concussions can be delayed.

"When the brain just rattles, symptoms of a concussion could be delayed for hours and they may be very subtle," Wedro tells Tech Times. "The diagnosis on the field is very difficult. If there's concern about a concussion, a player should not return to play in the same game. That's the bottom line. That's not what I want. It's what should happen."

Wedro, who has treated athletes with concussions many times through his 30 years of practice, also suggests that the doctors doing the testing "should not have a vested interest" in the team and instead act independent of it. In all the leagues' cases, concussion protocols are handled by team doctors.

Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, the director of the NBA's Concussion Program, didn't immediately return phone calls from Tech Times.

However, the fact that Curry was allowed back in the game after an hour — despite the fact that he could have had delayed symptoms — raises questions for the league's existing concussion policy. Every sports league has its own policy. In 2011, Major League Baseball instituted a mandatory seven-day disabled list stay for players concussed. That same year, the National Hockey League mandated that players suspected of a concussion must be removed from the game and fully tested.

The National Football League's concussion policy essentially states that players feared of having a concussion must be kept on the sidelines until tested, but throwing that askew is the fact that many players hide concussions and don't come clean with the pain they're experiencing during games. NFL players who are diagnosed with concussions must pass mandatory return-to-play procedures involving everything from general observation to cognitive testing. Before returning to practice, players must be cleared by team doctors.

While we hear about concussions in the NFL most of the time, Curry's nasty fall and fear of a concussion reminds us that other sports are contact sports as well. Should the NBA, at the very least, take a closer look at its concussion protocol? For the sake of the players, the answer is pretty obvious.

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