I saw passing reference to this on Twitter but forgot about it after I left the stadium on Saturday. Set aside Brian's standard hyperbole about the evils of Michigan State football generally and the wider polemic in this post specifically; he's absolutely right about this:
Will Gholston laid motionless on top of Braxton Miller for a good 30 seconds after that hit, wobbled off the field, and then returned. The sideline reporter dutifully related that Gholston "had the wind knocked out of him."
That's appalling. Anyone who hits the video above can see the ref tapping Gholston in the back to get up; he does not get up. He's just taken a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit and lays there for 30 seconds. Does it matter if he's actually unconscious or just incapable of moving for 30 seconds? No. That guy is done for the day, unless you're Dantonio. . . .
I'm not so sure Mark Dantonio is the only coach that needs to be called out on this. Montee Ball played this past week despite suffering two concussions in the past two months. Also, see Brian Kelly saying really strange things in a very similar situation a couple years ago. But that doesn't change anything here. The science is still in the development stage, but common sense dictates that brain injuries are not to be trifled with.
Maybe I'm overreacting here. I'm certainly not a medical expert, and the MSU training staff should be given the benefit of the doubt. But, for all the minor controversies around the Spartan football program the media has chosen to dwell on over the last couple weeks (see: Videotapegate), here's a situation with potentially very real long-term consequences that could stand a little more scrutiny.
I'm sure Dantonio isn't going to answer questions about a specific player's medical circumstances, but he can certainly answer questions about the program's general approach toward and policies regarding potential concussions. Here's hoping someone asks.
Update: Mr. Rexrode addresses this question in his mailbag post:
My answer was, I thought it appeared he was knocked out as well, and I asked him after the game if he was knocked out. He insisted that he was on the ground trying to catch his breath after having the wind knocked out of him. I talked to him for a while and he did not look or sound like a player who had just suffered a concussion. He did seem pretty angry about the loss.
I saw Gholston taking a concussion test on the sideline after the hit. The medical staff said he passed it. He returned to the game.
Biddle was adamant, though. He tweeted: "It's clear he was knocked out. Crystal. The med staff needed to overrule him." Also: "When (a) player is knocked out due to a blow to the head, which Gholston absolutely was, it's an automatic concussion."
Interesting points. So I went to YouTube and got as many angles of the play as I could. Here's one. I was looking for the same absolute proof that Gholston was knocked out on the play.
What I saw, in fact, was an aerial view that showed him moving his legs seconds after the hit and before the training staff got to him. Much earlier than I realized when I watched it live. He was still mostly motionless for several seconds and I can see why people assumed he was out.
But when he got up seconds after that, he moved quickly to the sideline, angrily swatting the trainers away when they tried to take his hands. Then he passed the test.
Or perhaps, he didn't really pass it but they just said he did. Or the training staff told Dantonio he failed and he told them he didn't care. Or they ignored the fact that Gholston was out cold and should have been ruled out immediately.
Now let me ask: Does anyone really think, in this era of extreme - and long overdue -- sensitivity to concussions, that stuff like that would go on at Michigan State or anywhere else in major college football? You can call me naïve. But I think that's ridiculous.
Frankly, I do think that's a bit naive. I don't think we can assume coaches working in the context of modern college football are always thinking about the bigger picture. And I don't think Dantonio overruled the medical staff to allow Gholston to play. I think he should have overruled them to say he couldn't play.
I'm glad Rexrode asked Gholston about it, but it's a question that really needs to be asked of the coaching staff, not the player. Gholston's evaluation of the situation shouldn't matter here.
He's right that Gholston did move his legs a little right away--so it may well be I'm overreacting--but the standard should not be "absolute proof" that he was knocked out. It should be absolute proof that he didn't suffer anything close to a concussion. If the training staff did that, great (although I'd still question the overall risk analysis framework, given the uncertainties that exist relative to head injuries). I'm saying if we can ask the coaches multiple questions about videotapes, we can ask them one about this:
[Click on it, I guess. Not sure why it's not running. Credit.]
If that happened to my kid, I would absolutely not wait him playing football again that day. In my opinion, we should apply the same standard to a 21-year old college student playing football for the equivalent of $20,000 per year.
Update #2: Mr. Rexrode followed through and asked Dantonio about the situation at today's press conference:
Dantonio on Gholston's return to the game: Whether he was knocked out or wasn't, the trainers cleared him and that's why he returned.— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) October 2, 2012
Dantonio said he heard Gholston was stunned and that he lost his breath. He was heading to field when Gholston got up.— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) October 2, 2012
So he says no automatic exclusion from the rest of a game even if a player is knocked out.— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) October 2, 2012
Frankly, that's more than I thought we'd get. It's not the most satisfying answer, but it confirms that normal medical procedures were followed. And it does indicate Brian's original statement was a little over the top. In retrospect, I shouldn't have said he was "absolutely right." He did raise a good question, though.
FWIW, I learned a fair amount by asking the question, and I'm glad the issue was raised publicly. (Not that the two are related; I'm sure Rexrode would have asked regardless since it was already on his radar.) Onward and forward.