The problem of concussions in football is often framed as a conflict between the interests of the NFL and the interests of players. While that may be true in many ways, the experience of Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin in an NFC divisional playoff game on Jan. 11 shows one way the issue can be more complicated; in that game, Harvin says, he attempted to re-take the field after suffering a hard shot to the head without waiting for the permission of the Seahawks' medical staff.
In the playoff game against New Orleans, Harvin was helped back to the sideline during Seattle's first possession after New Orleans safety Rafael Bush hit him in the head — a collision that resulted in a penalty against Bush.
Harvin went to the sideline and underwent a series of tests, per the NFL's guidelines for treating a concussion. Then he found his helmet — teams often hide the helmets of players who've suffered concussions to prevent them from re-entering games — and ran back onto the field on Seattle's next possession. Doctor and football writer Jene Bramel noted on Twitter that Harvin had returned to the field in less time than many doctors believe it takes to properly diagnose a potential concussion:
(Bramel was referring to the Packers and Saints players who'd been identified in internal NFL correspondence as having refused to leave the field after receiving a concussion diagnosis.) "I argued with them the first time and I went through the protocol and I was able to get back in the game," Harvin said Tuesday at Super Bowl Media Day. "I tried to make the decision [myself] when I snatched my helmet." He didn't say whether anyone on the team's coaching or medical staff attempted to stop him or told him he was allowed to return, and the Seahawks did not return a request for clarification.
Harvin was less successful making a case for his return following a second hit, which happened while he attempted to catch a pass in the end zone. He was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the NFC championship game (but was cleared last week to play in the Super Bowl).
"The second time you could see all the doctors and trainers, and they told me there was no way I was going back into the game. They told me there wasn't a chance."
Harvin said he appreciates the NFL's new rules that aim to protect players from head injuries, but "it definitely gets aggravating. They're definitely looking to take care of players. You have to go through a lot of steps, a lot of doctors, a lot of neurologists just to make sure everything is fine. From that aspect, health, I can appreciate it. But at the same time, in the game, I didn't like it at all."
In an ESPN NFL Nation survey released this week, 85% of 320 players polled said they would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion.