Mahomes shouldn’t rush to return to the game: Favre

A tackle left the reigning Superbowl MVP unsteady on his feet. A look at concussions and protocol.

Emma Jones 5 minute read January 20, 2021
Patrick Mahomes

Patrick Mahomes is injured on the play and leaves in the third quarter of the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 17, 2021 in Kansas City, Missouri. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

NFL veteran Brett Favre says Patrick Mahomes shouldn’t rush to return to the game after a concerning tackle on Sunday night left him struggling to get to his feet.

“When you’re in the moment, and you’re young, you’re bulletproof, man,” the former Green Bay Packers quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee told TMZ. “But, I’m 51 years old and I’m wondering what tomorrow will bring because of concussions more than anything.”

Mahomes, quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, took a hit from Cleveland Browns linebacker, Mack Wilson, in Sunday night’s game. He appeared to be unsteady before being assisted off the field by teammates. — Viral Sports (@NotScTop10plays) January 17, 2021

Mahomes was initially evaluated for a concussion and kept off the field for the remainder of the game. Sources later shared that they believed Mahomes had suffered a pinched nerve in his neck from the tackle, however, nothing has been conclusively said about his condition.

I have a hard time believing this. He did that “fencing response.” I thought it was a choke hold or nerve at first too, but apparently you can get concussed from an abrupt stop, without literally hitting your head. — Scott Jones (@RuckusJones) January 18, 2021

Concussions and CTE

Concussions occur when the head is hit by an object or when the brain itself moves suddenly within the skull (caused by jarring or a sudden stop).

Autopsies conducted within six months of a concussion have shown damaged axons — projections off of the main body of the neuron that connect with other brain cells. This damage is also correlated with increased inflammation, a mechanism thought to help the brain heal and protect itself but also a suspected contributor to developing neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Multiple concussions have been linked to a progressive condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), according to a paper published in Current Pain and Headaches Report. Research also points to the idea that multiple sub-concussive impacts — injuries to the head that do not result in a diagnosable concussion — play a significant role in the development of CTE.

Initially described in boxers as “Punch Drunk” syndrome, symptoms of CTE typically do not appear until years or decades after a series of concussions. Initial signs include depression, irritability, explosive outbursts, impaired memory and concentration, as well as gait changes and weakness. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe, often leading to difficulty walking, tremors and muscle stiffness (Parkinsonism) and dementia. CTE is ultimately fatal.

Researchers are not 100 per cent certain what happens in the brain to cause the symptoms of CTE, however, autopsies have shown reduced brain volume and neurofibrillary tangles among other physical signs.

In a healthy neuron, a protein called Tau helps build structures called microtubules, which the neuron uses as a sort of railroad to transport nutrients from one end of the cell to another — an important structure considering neurons can grow to be more than a metre long. In a brain cell that has developed neurofibrillary tangles, the Tau clumps together, causing the microtubule to collapse and interfere with the necessary functions of the cell. Due to the damage, the cell begins to die and the complex network that allows us to think, feel, and function is impaired.

Athletes with longer careers are more likely to develop CTE. This includes amateur athletes as well; according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, children who start playing tackle football at five years of age have ten times more risk of developing CTE in their lifetime than an athlete who started playing tackle football at 14.

Even as the knowledge and education around the risks or concussions and head injuries become widespread, the culture of “playing through the pain” persists. In 2018, a study released by McGill university estimated that roughly 82 per cent of CFL players who had experienced injuries or symptoms that could indicate a concussion did not report the event. Some athletes went so far as to hide their symptoms.

Now spotters and medical professionals keep a careful eye on athletes, pulling them off the field for further evaluation if there is any potential for head injury. However, the concern persists that athletes will rush to return to the sport, complicating any brain injury.

Superbowl LV on the horizon

Despite Mahomes remaining off the field for the rest of the game, the Chiefs went on to win the playoff game against the Browns. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid seemed optimistic about the quarterback’s condition after the game.

“He got hit in the back of the head and kinda knocked the wind out of him and everything else with it,” said Reid. “He’s doing great right now which is a real positive as we looked at this. Passed all the deals that he needed to pass so we’ll see where it goes from here.”

To return to the field, Mahomes will need to pass a the NFL’s concussion protocol. The stages of the protocol include rest and symptom management, slowly adding in more cardiovascular exercise under supervision of the team’s doctor. Balance and cognitive tests are also evaluated. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that it was too soon to say if Mahomes will be cleared for Sunday’s championship game.

Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes cleared certain steps Monday, “some big steps”, but he remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol with what is considered a concussion and it’s too early to say that he definitely will play in Sunday’s conference championship vs. the Bills, per sources. — Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 19, 2021

The Chiefs are set to play the Buffalo Bills this Sunday in the AFC championship game. The winner of this championship progresses to Super Bowl LV, planned to happen on Feb. 7.

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