MacKinnon: Eskimos should do the right thing and bench Reilly
Brain injuries are not something to take lightly
EDMONTON - The workings of the human brain are infinitely complex; a roster decision about an athlete who has suffered a brain injury can be a simple one to make.
What on earth is the rush in getting medical clearance for Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly to play against the Montreal Alouettes today? Tell him to sit this one out.
Less than seven days after Reilly received an illegal head shot in Edmonton’s 34-22 loss to the Toronto Argonauts last Saturday, the 28-year-old quarterback was medically cleared to play when the Eskimos play the Alouettes at Commonwealth Stadium at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Eskimos said Friday, in a release, that “Reilly’s status for the game has not yet been determined.” So, determine it. Sit him down this week, at least. Period.
Let the future of the Eskimos’ franchise, their brightest light this grim 3-10 season, watch this one from the sidelines or from the spotter’s booth. Common sense says the Eskimos should rest Reilly. Let Jonathan Crompton and Kerry Joseph, who turned 40 on Friday, give it their best shot against the Alouettes, perhaps the most aggressively blitzing, sack-happy defence in the CFL.
Who or what would be harmed by erring on the side of caution? The Eskimos playoff chances? It is to laugh.
Yes, mathematically, the Eskimos have a faint playoff pulse in both the East and West Divisions. Basically, it involves the Eskimos running the table over their final five games, while Saskatchewan or Montreal lose out the rest of the way.
None of which is going to happen.
Sitting Reilly would be the right and prudent thing to do regardless of the Eskimos placing in the standings.
No less a voice of experience than ex-Eskimos quarterback Matt Dunigan, a man who daily endures the ravages of multiple concussions suffered during his playing career, said this week it would be a mistake for the Eskimos to play Reilly.
Yet, the Eskimos have approached Reilly’s situation this week with a deadline in mind.
On Saturday, he absorbed a cheap helmet-to-helmet hit from Argonauts defensive lineman Cleyon Laing. On Sunday, the club announced he had suffered a concussion.
On Monday, Reilly said he felt great, the club declared it was following the CFL’s concussion protocol to the letter, and the clock started ticking toward a decision on his availability.
Why? Shouldn’t Reilly’s long-term health trump his readiness to play this particular game this all-but-lost season?
It’s not as if the Laing head shot was a rare event for Reilly this season. Laing, Saskatchewan’s Weldon Brown and Hamilton’s Brian Bulcke all have been fined for illegal shots on Reilly.
In part owing to the much-documented woes of the Eskimos offensive line, Reilly has been an attainable target all season long.
From the beginning of this current situation, Reed and Eskimos general manager Ed Hervey have stressed the club’s adherence to the CFL return-to-play protocol, something they reinforced Friday.
Reilly, the club’s release stated, “passed standardized and mandated return-to-play protocol as set out by the Canadian Football League.”
The statement noted the protocol includes graded exertion, neuropsychological testing and medical clearance.
That process indicates Reilly is ready to go. Of course, immediately after the head shot, Reilly told club medical staff he was fine. It was several minutes later, while on the sidelines, that Reilly told Reed something wasn’t right, the medical staff took over and the protocol kicked into gear.
By Monday, Reilly was feeling “great” again. And maybe he was. He’s also a tough, proud competitor who has demonstrated a high pain threshold, a stubborn willfulness to play, no matter what.
“This week has been all about getting information and putting yourself into a position to make an intelligent decision regarding Mike’s safety,” Reed told reporters. “I am truly confident that we’ve gotten enough information that the decision we’ll make, based on what the results are going to be (is) one that will put Mike in a safe position.”
Reed added there is “a lot of information” from the medical profession that says athletes have played — and played safely — seven to 10 days after suffering a concussion.
“The protocol is so intricate and so advanced and has been ... vetted by the medical community that people are confident in it. Leagues are confident in it. And those leagues are very careful about player safety, as well.”
Reed said the team is not trying to rush Reilly back any more than it would rush any other player playing any other position back to action.
“The process is the process,” Reed said. “If we were playing on Sunday, we would have the information today.
“It just so happened that we’re playing on Saturday and the process culminates today. So, I don’t believe that it’s a ninth- or 12th- hour decision. I believe that, based on the fact of when it happened and how the process plays out, it just works out this way temporally.”
Still, the feeling you get, the optics suggest the Eskimos are using the concussion protocol to justify throwing him right back out there.
This one feels wrong and not just because the Eskimos intone the league’s “protocol” as if it were handed down on tablets of stone from a mountaintop. It is a set of guidelines based on the best information currently available as humankind’s knowledge of the brain evolves, bit by bit.
It feels as if the competitive instincts of all concerned with the Eskimos are overriding prudence. For no good reason.
Do the right thing, Eskimos. Use your brains. Sit Reilly down.
On Twitter: @rjmackinnon
Check out my blog, Sweat Sox
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