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Couch: Concussion Expert Says Mahomes Choke-Out Scenario Is ‘Preposterous’

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The first report from FOX’s Jay Glazer, citing unnamed sources, said Patrick Mahomes had basically been choked out. No concussion. Uh-huh. That’s why he could barely stand and had a glassy look in his eyes? Because a one-second tackle deprived his brain of that much oxygen?

The next day, reports from unnamed sources changed. A Kansas City radio station said Mahomes’ problem was actually that he had been hit on a nerve in his neck. No concussion. Just suspend disbelief about all the symptoms we associate with concussions. Touched lightly on the neck and Mahomes was almost knocked out. Uh-huh. Was he tackled by Mr. Spock?

We are getting awfully vague and confusing messages — intentionally confusing messages — about Mahomes and the injury he suffered during the Chiefs victory over Cleveland. At this point, I don’t believe a word the Chiefs, the NFL, the networks or any of the unnamed sources say. It just looks flat out like they’re trying to find some way to get Mahomes back into the AFC Championship Game Sunday against Buffalo, concussion or not. It will be so much easier to accept that he’s playing if we can just pretend that concussion was never even a possibility.

So I asked Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Nowinski, a former WWE wrestler who also has a PhD, might well be the biggest advocate fighting for understanding and action to prevent CTE. You can even give him partial credit for the NFL having real concussion protocols.

“They’re not talking about a choke,’’ Nowinski told me Wednesday, in a statement that was in agreement with what was previously written by our David Chao, MD. “They’re talking about a strike to the neck. It worked in Star Trek. I’ve never seen it happen before anywhere else.’’

Yes, I stole that Spock-Star Trek line from Nowinski. To be clear, he is skeptical about the idea that Mahomes doesn’t have a concussion, even though the Chiefs won’t use that word. Unnamed sources won’t either.

That’s assuming the Chiefs and the sources are different people.

“It does perk your ears up to hear these longshot theories being put out in the media,’’ Nowinski said. “I can’t say they’re coming from the team, but I’ve been following this stuff closely for almost 20 years and I’ve never heard of that before.

“Until the Chiefs make a statement, I don’t want to make any hard claims. But if the team says later this week that ‘We don’t believe he had a concussion,’ I’m going to have a decision to make. To claim that all of that is caused by a tap on the neck is preposterous.’’

The NFL should be all over this. Hasn’t the league already suffered enough damage through the years over ignoring concussions for the good of TV ratings, victories and ticket sales?

Mahomes is the best, most marketable player in the NFL. He’s the NFL’s meal ticket with a great personality, cool hair and a Super Bowl win on his resume, all at just 25 years old.

CBS, which owns the broadcasting rights to the AFC title game and the Super Bowl, surely wants him to play. Mahomes is the perfect sales tool to kids, who have been staying away from playing the sport, presumably because parents are worried about, yes, concussions.

But we’ve seen enough stories of the long-term damage multiple concussions can do to football players. If Mahomes has one, he should sit out this week.

Not only that, but someone should be open and honest about his status now. Just say that he has a concussion or he doesn’t. Or that we don’t know yet, but we’re testing. But to never use the word “concussion’’ while leaking never-before-heard-of alternative theories just does not instill confidence.

“Not only do all signs point toward concussion,’’ Nowinski said, “but it also would be impossible to rule it out even if you had this one-in-a-million theory. The one-in-a million injury combined with the greatest player playing in the NFL, combined with being deep in the playoffs — to have all of that line up is a bit ridiculous.’’

But give the Chiefs and the NFL credit for one thing. When Mahomes was knocked out of the game, at least he didn’t return to play. In the old days ten years ago, he’d have been given smelling salts and sent back in.

“I mean, he was pretty badly impaired,’’ Nowinski said. “I don’t think they had a choice.’’

For now, Mahomes is in “protocol,’’ as the Chiefs say. They just don’t put the word “concussion’’ before it. And I guess we’re supposed to believe that he is passing through protocols. Those are protocols for a concussion no one will talk about, much less admit that he might or might not have, despite all the original reports on game day.

Nowinski said that it might all come down to Mahomes being honest about his symptoms, if he has any, being honest about how much his head hurts and how bad his memory is now. They will compare him to his preseason baseline tests, which Nowinski said are “modestly reliable.’’’

Nowinski said that even Mahomes’ arm sticking straight out with a fist is a common sign of significant brain injury.

So with the pressure of the league, the team, networks and the fan base on him, Mahomes has to think about his long-term health.

Let’s hope he doesn’t have a concussion. But the confusing messages aren’t the right ones to send. Because of the way everyone is hiding everything, if Mahomes does say he’s OK and is cleared to play, we’ll all just have to cross our fingers, nod and say . . .

“Uh-huh.’’

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

17 Comments

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  1. “It just looks flat out like they’re trying to find some way to get Mahomes back into the AFC Championship Game Sunday against Buffalo, concussion or not. It will be so much easier to accept that he’s playing if we can just pretend that concussion was never even a possibility.”

    EVERYTHING about this storyline points to the quote above. We all watched how Mahomes looked like Bambi on ice after that tackle and if this were someone lower on the NFL totem pole, they’re immediately getting diagnosed with a concussion and sitting out the next week. Mmph.

  2. Poor article. I guess there are attempts at irony. “Uh-huh.”

    Everyone can find an ‘expert.’ This one happens to be founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. I myself have only suffered one concussion in a football game (only high school), but there was definitive contact to the head. All Chiefs fans remember the Trent Green concussion. Ugly.

    This story lacks coherence and evidence. Yes, we all saw a woozy Patrick Mahomes. And none of us has ever experienced that sensation when standing up too quickly, even without being wrangled to the ground? Maybe Greg Couch should get in touch with a MEDICAL doctor instead of quoting a wrestler who got a PhD.

    As fortune would have it, there’s one on Outkick:
    https://www.outkick.com/david-chao-md-what-i-think-happened-to-patrick-mahomes-why-he-will-be-fine-play-to-sunday/

    • how the fuck else would they handle this?

      “HEY EVERYONE OUR BEST PLAYER AND KEY TO OUR ENTIRE TEAM SUFFERED A REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY SCARY HEAD INJURY. IT IS SO SCARY. WE’RE TERRIFIED!”

      LMAO.

      Didn’t look that bad on tape, he ran off the field 5 minutes later, and he knows 2 + 2 now. He’s an adult. If he wants to play, let him play. If he doesn’t want to play, don’t make him play and don’t hold it against him for being cautious.

      ***NEWSFLASH*** In the NFL, every player is 1 hit away from being Shazier’d.

  3. He has all the indications but lacks one thing- no video shot shows he took a blow to the head. Best I’ve heard is a “sudden stop”. Now, THAT’S preposterous. If you can get a concussion that easily, football is over. But let’s say it’s true, you’d have to say it was a mild concussion. As for the posturing, everyone points to a freeze frame where his arm/hand was in that position- for about a tenth of a second.
    This wrestler makes his money by making everything an extreme CTE event. He wants headlines and donations when he cries what an outrage it is for Mahomes to play this week. I’ll go with the MEDICAL doctor quoted on Outkick earlier this week.

  4. are you bored or something? You’ve covered football for how long, and you somehow care about concussions now? So your premise is the Chiefs are trying their very hardest to allow the best player in football to play a Championship Game in America’s sport? Gee, you don’t say! You’re really on to something here, Couch.

    If Mahomes wants to play, let him play. If they are forcing Mahomes to play with a head injury and pressuring him to play, well, that’s different.

    Sorry Couch, our society has turned an eye the other way on violence in this sport forever. No one wants to see a Henne / Allen Championship Game. Find something else to write about you m00k.

  5. This is typical journalism today. Drama porn as i call it. Could it not be possible Greg that he got hit but did not suffer a concussion. And if he did there have been players that have come back the next week to play. Lastly, experts mean nothing. Experts that say masks and lockdownswork and we all know that is crap. Jay Mariotti Jr is all i can say. This is horrible journalism.

    • Agreed, poor article. Unfortunately, the NBA sucks, so nothing to read there. I’m not wasting my time reading how Biden will heal the country, after he crushes or reprograms Trump voters. College football is over. And the NCAA isn’t worth talking about until March. So, yep, I skimmed this crap.

      And Kevin’s right: all these ‘foundation’ experts are looking for more donations. Whatever their cause, it’s all we are worry about.

  6. I am a REAL (emergency department) doctor with over 30 years experience, and this bullcrap about Mahomes having a “vaso-vagal reaction” is absolutely preposterous.

    This just proves how in the tank the NFL is. They carry on about how much they are doing to protect the players and reduce the incidence of concussions, but in the end it’s all just about the money and TV.

    I watched the game and the multiple replays. I’ve treated tens of thousands of patients and have seen a zillion people have “vaso-vagal reactions.” If Mahomes didn’t have a concussion, then NO ONE HAS EVER HAD a concussion playing football.

    What garbage. I had pretty much written off the NFL due to their disgusting wokeness – but was mildly interested in this playoff game so I tuned in for a while. This only proves to me that I need never waste my time with the NFL ever again, and I used to be a huge football fan (college and pro). No longer.

    Clay, stop trying to feed us this malarky from an orthopedic surgeon (Dr. Chow) who now seems to want to be a neurologist or maybe a cardiologist. I treat a lot of orthopedic and sports injuries, but that doesn’t make me an orthopedic surgeon. This is like putting Laremy Tunsil in to play quarterback.

    Give us a break – or maybe to quote that (thankfully now obsolete) turd Levar Ball: “stay in your lane.”

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