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

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 . . .


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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 and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for 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.