Why Cordy Glenn is on Day 35 of the concussion protocol and the question
that comes next
By Paul Dehner Jr.
CINCINNATI — Zac Taylor receives a report on $60 million tackle Cordy
Glenn just about every day. Pretty much every day it comes out the same.
He’s still in the concussion protocol. For 35 consecutive days.
“Honestly, it’s every day that I look for the update,”
Taylor said. “Every single day I come in and it’s day-to-day.”
That quote was from 10 days ago. He’s been asked about the left tackle’s
situation in every press conference since. The answer continues to be
“day-to-day.” That may sound intentionally vague, but it’s
for good reason. Trying to explain what’s going on with Glenn would
be like trying to explain how his brain works.
The simplistic version is that Glenn self-reported the concussion after
the preseason game against Washington and continues to be symptomatic.
He’s not allowed to talk to media while in the protocol, but he’s
told others that light and noise aggravate the issue. Those are standard
The world of concussions is as scary and unpredictable as it is well-documented.
What we do know is players in 85 percent of concussions suffered in the
NFL see a return to play within 14 days, according to Vernon Williams,
a sports neurologist and director of the Center for Sports Neurology and
Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
We also know a significant majority of players miss at least one week.
When a concussion lingers longer, as this one has for Glenn, other circumstances
are typically at play. That includes potential exacerbation of a pre-existing issue.
Sources couldn’t go into detail, but there’s no knowledge of
Glenn’s particular issue having happened in Cincinnati before, and
national specialists in this space used the word “rare” when
discussing his situation. Glenn did seek a second opinion, which was in
step with the first.
The point being, it’s complicated and goes beyond the standard realm
of a concussion.
This week, Glenn turned 30 and took steps toward a return to play at practice,
participating in aerobic stretching and doing footwork drills on the rehab
field for the first time in the portion open to media. His workout load
has ramped up lately after the rules of protocol dictated next to no physical
or mental exertion through the first two weeks.
Those are all signs Glenn could be inching closer to coming out the other side.
The question that’s drawing whispers around the Bengals, however,
isn’t if Glenn can return. Rather, it’s this: Should he?
“We get concerned when there is a progression of increased duration
or severity,” Dr. Williams said of the general approach to scenarios
like Glenn’s. “Either of those kinds of things are concerning
and you’d be saying, ‘We need to think about whether it’s
the right thing to do to return to a collision sport at all.’”
Understanding life in the concussion protocol plays into Glenn’s
situation because it can be infuriating and nerve-wracking.
Every day includes waves of meetings with doctors and updating the condition.
There are pencil tests and memorization sessions. Keeping track of it
all while dealing with brain trauma can be a blur.
“I don’t know, I seen a lot of people,” said cornerback
Tony McRae, who missed two games with a concussion last December. “I
probably talked to … I don’t know, they have to make sure
you are all right, so I talked to a lot of people.”
One athletic trainer is specifically assigned to work daily with players
in the protocol, and the independent neurologists will see the player
twice before he would ever return to play. The Bengals let those doctors
make the final call and have never disagreed with a diagnosis no matter
how important the player or how grand the stage (see Green, A.J., 2014
All these conversations are intertwined for a player dealing with the symptoms
and without any way to tell when they will crop up again. It could be
something as simple as walking into a room or turning on the car radio
or even partaking in a normal conversation.
“At first, it’s kind of hard, you think you are normal, then
someone can play some music or something and it triggers your whole —
it’s your brain, you don’t really know what triggers it,”
said Dre Kirkpatrick, who also missed two games last December with a concussion.
“It’s kind of like a fog. To me, your thoughts are kind of
off. Your thought process, your conversation, you kind of be all over
the place a little bit. Not as fresh as you normally would be. Just kind
of hard to sleep at night. Headaches. I’ve never had major headaches,
but it’s more like you just don’t feel right.”
Not sleeping well ranks among the worst signs and adds to what could make
life worse: the anxiety.
The future ramifications of concussions are, obviously, terrifying. Coming
face to face with football’s most jarring reality or other unexpected
issues surfacing in connection with it can rattle the nerves. Or at least
send someone on a search for answers.
Safety Shawn Williams started wearing the Q-collar, an experimental device
Luke Kuechly first wore two years ago. Outside of Williams and Kuechly,
it hasn’t found wide use in the NFL.
“It’s different for everybody,” Williams said. “You
don’t do anything. You don’t go to meetings. It’s weird
not to be doing anything.”
Being thrown out of the normal routine and not allowed in meetings is odd,
to be certain. It’s also part of the challenge of this equation
Not being able to stay in football shape for two weeks is one thing. But
when a prohibition on any kind of real football participation expands
to more than a month for an offensive lineman weighing 345 pounds, how
many snaps of high-level play could be realistically expected when he
does get cleared? That’s a growing concern.
The more important worry goes well beyond how the Bengals will manage left
tackle when he plays again. It’s about the next 50 years of Glenn’s life.
If whatever number of issues and/or symptoms have been set off by this
concussion are serious enough to last this long, it’s fair to ask
if he should even attempt to return to football.
Glenn — in the fourth year of a five-year, $60 million deal that
started in Buffalo — has made plenty of money in this game. This
shouldn’t be about money, but even if it were, Glenn’s earnings
should make it moot.
It’s about Glenn’s comfort level and desire to play balanced
against the risks of aggravating this serious issue that’s taken
over his life for the past month.
These are all conversations ongoing with Glenn as this situation evolves.
They’re not easy. Brushing this off as one player struggling to
return from a standard concussion would be a gross and misguided oversimplification.
“What we say in the concussion space is when you’ve seen one
concussion, you’ve seen one concussion,” Dr. Williams said.
“They can be so different from one person to another and even within
an individual they can be very different.”
Glenn’s situation is undeniably very different. How long it will
continue is unknown.
All we do know is every day Taylor will be checking the report to see the
latest update, hoping to report a status other than “day-to-day.”
(Photo: David Kohl / USA Today)