Cam Newton and the NFL's concussion conundrum

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Quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers walks off the field after losing to the Broncos, 21-20, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Thursday in Denver.

Other than banning the hitting in football, there are not a lot of simple answers to the question of concussions and the NFL.

As most people associated with the NFL will describe it, football is a “high collision” – not high impact – sport.

The human body, especially the brain, was not designed to withstand the rigors of men who can run like deer and are built like bears consistently crashing into each other.

That being said, the NFL has paid a lot of money to at least appear like it has concerns over the association between its players, concussions and the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

That’s why it is so hard to believe that in the first game of the 2016 season, the NFL could so screw up a situation that an issue it would love to tuck away was as much in the spotlight as any performance during opening week.

Almost as soon as the Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers on Thursday, the result of the Super Bowl 50 rematch was lost in the debate over the way several Broncos players did not get penalties for helmet-to-helmet contact to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and whether or not the Carolina coaching staff and game officials properly followed concussion protocols involving Newton near the end of the game.

“Certainly, I thought, 'Oh my God, the league is going to be upset that this is what happens in game No. 1,' " former NFL official Mike Pereira told Pro Football Talk Live on Thursday.

Newton took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Denver’s Darian Stewart with 36 seconds remaining but continued to play.

The Panthers were battered with questions about whether they followed proper concussion protocols.

Pereira told PFT Live that referee Gene Steratore should have taken things into his own hands to protect Newton.

“What disappointed me the most was how they basically went against protocol with 36 seconds to go,” Pereira said. “The shot (Newton) took from Stewart … protocol has Cam out of the game, and it starts with the referees.”

Pereira said Steratore should have required Newton to leave the game for at least one play to be checked out by medical personnel.

It was a tricky call because it was a one-point game and requiring the NFL MVP to sit out a play at that juncture could have decided the game.

So what?

If the NFL is going to say that it is serious about CTE and intent on making the game as safe as possible for its players, then any particular play at any juncture in a game has to come a distant second to the health of a player.

Yes, this is a sport that thrives on violence and players know that there are certain risks to their short- and long-term health when they sign up for the NFL as a career.

Still, the NFL has settled a suit filed by former players for more than a half a billion dollars over concussions and CTE.

In March, high-ranking NFL official Jeff Miller publicly admitted a connection between football and CTE during a forum about concussions.

Once you’ve admitted that your game is associated with the problem, you are obligated to address the issue in the strongest way possible.

The league has to show that it takes CTE extremely seriously or suffer more potential financial penalties.

Earlier this week the NFL fined Stewart $18,231 for his hit on Newton and Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall was fined $24,000 for a shot to Newton’s head that was not called a penalty during the game.

That’s an okay “after the fact” reaction, but the goal is to prevent that type of hit during games.

The only way to do that is to strictly enforce the rules against helmet-to-helmet hits by calling penalties.

Coaches don’t like penalties and you’d be amazed at how quickly things stop when they begin hurting the team.

Before this week’s games, the NFL office needs to formally remind officials, players and coaches about the rules against helmet-to-helmet hits and note that it will be a point of emphasis.

As soon as possible, the league needs to get together with the NFL Players Association and develop a clearly defined fine and suspension procedure for intentional helmet-to-helmet contact.

What happened to Newton is the opposite of what the NFL wanted to highlight in its Super Bowl rematch.​