“I think the culture has changed. I think the mindset is that they don’t want to take unnecessary chances, for the most part, with brain injury,” said former Steelers team physician Julian Bailes. The decision to sideline All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, perhaps the Steelers’ most dynamic offensive player, for a playoff game, Dr. Bailes continued, is “a good, modern example” of fundamental shifts inside the league. NFL officials introduced the concussion protocol in 2007 and updates the guide each year. It mandates that concussed players must overcome their symptoms, pass a cognitive test and make a gradual return to their exercise routines, among other requirements. The process reduces the odds that a player with lingering symptoms will return to the field too soon, said Robert Heyer, president of the NFL Physicians Society.
He said players in the past decade have become more attuned to their concussions and less willing to gloss over symptoms, a pattern that makes it easier for doctors to collect accurate information. He and Dr. Bailes said they suspect concussed players are taking longer breaks since the protocol took effect, although statistics weren’t immediately available this week. It’s also unknown whether the extra recovery time may reduce a player’s risk for CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.