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San Francisco Chronicle Interviews Dr. Williams about NFL's New Concussion Rule


Dr. Vernon Williams, a neurologist and the founding director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology in Los Angeles, serves as a concussion consultant to a host of professional teams, colleges and high schools.

He also works at the youth level, where in-game medical experts are scarce, and encourages Pop Warner parents to serve as a “concussion spotters.” That is, he suggests that one or two parents are designated to watch from the stands and keep their eyes peeled for players exhibiting signs of a brain injury.

“It’s a way to identify any kids who are stumbling or may exhibit symptoms,” Williams said today in a phone interview. “Clearly, we’ve all seen situations where we’ve watched games and we say ‘Man, that guy looks likes he’s stumbling or he took a big shot. And it looks as though that person might be at least benefit from an assessment.’”

Given that backdrop, it’s not surprising Williams supports a new concussion-related rule approved by the NFL today at the owners meetings in Phoenix. The league will now have an independent trainer in the booth at each game to serve as a concussion spotter. The trainer will have the authority to call a medical timeout by communicating with a field official if it appears no one has recognized a player that needs to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

Falcons president Rich McKay, who serves on the league’s competition committee, acknowledged a play involving Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman in the Super Bowl helped inspire the new rule.

In the fourth quarter, Edelman appeared unsteady after absorbing a hellacious hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. However, he didn’t leave the game, later caught the game-winning touchdown pass and declined to say if he was concussed in a post-game interview.

There was a similar incident in the second quarter of the Seahawks’ win over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson took a huge helmet-to-the-jaw hit from linebacker Clay Matthews that caused his head to snap back.

During the game, FOX sideline reporter Erin Andrews said team doctors talked to Wilson “for all of two seconds” on the sideline. After the game, Wilson appeared on the FOX set and was asked if he got “dinged” on the hit. Wilson said, “No, I wasn’t hurt,” but his smile inspired laughter from the TV crew.

The two high-profile situations didn’t provide a good look for the NFL, making it appear player safety wasn’t such a priority when it involved an important player in a high-stakes game.

“I think (the new rule) is a good idea,” Williams said. “I think the more we can to do to formalize these game-time, real-time observations and improve our ability to detect and at least have an assessment of someone who might have suffered a concussion, I think that’s a good thing. The more we can do in that regard the better.”