Benching of San Francisco 49ers' Alex Smith raises questions about concussion precedent

Mercury News --Santa Clara, California—December 9, 2012

Facing a flood of lawsuits from former players and confronted by troubling new brain research about the long-term toll of head trauma, the NFL is doing more to protect players.

But as Alex Smith found out, at least one aspect of football culture remains unchanged: Once you step off that field, there's no guarantee you'll be back.

The 49ers quarterback did all the right things after his Nov. 11 concussion, reporting his blurred vision to the training staff and remaining on the sideline until he could pass the league's increasingly strict protocol for returning to play.

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Because concussion symptoms aren't always easy to see, coaches and medical staff members sometimes rely on players' self-reporting. The NFL has created rigorous neurological safeguards to prevent players from returning too early.

Several doctors noted the risk of second-impact syndrome in younger players. Players may be dramatically more susceptible to future concussions if the initial injury is not properly treated.

"The culture of football is changing. Teams are very cognizant of not putting a player back before he's ready," Dr. Teena Shetty, a neurologist for the New York Giants, said from her office at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. "If (Smith) were my patient, I'd say the right thing was done for his long-term health."

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Read the full story at mercurynews.com.

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