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Jonathan Spector’s Concussion a Learning Opportunity

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We should all use this unfortunate situation to get better across the board.

MLS: Orlando City SC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

As most of you know, Jonathan Spector suffered a concussion in the first half of Orlando City’s 2-0 loss to New York City FC last weekend. While that in itself is bad enough since Spector is the anchor of the back line, the way the situation played out raises concerns.

Spector’s injury occurred in the 16th minute, when there was a clash of heads in the box between the Lions’ captain and Maxime Chanot during a corner kick. Spector laid on the ground for about a minute while speaking with a member of OCSC’s training staff. Then he sat up while members of both Orlando’s and NYCFC’s medical teams appeared to evaluate him. Spector left the field in the 18th minute and continued conversing with medical staff from both teams, before re-entering play at the 19-minute mark. He finished the half with no further incidents but did not return to play the second half, instead being replaced by Lamine Sané.

As I stated before, news subsequently broke on Monday that Spector had indeed suffered a concussion and was entering MLS concussion protocol, which the club confirmed. Beyond confirming the injury was a concussion and saying Spector would be evaluated daily by team staff and the club’s medical partners at Orlando Health, there was no further information available as to why Spector was allowed to return or what led to that decision being made.

“Orlando City will not comment on field decisions during the match as the club’s team doctors were not involved in the process,” said a team spokesperson when reached for comment. “Return-to-play decisions for Spector are not available, since concussion symptoms and treatment vary on a case by case basis.”

The obvious problem here is that Spector was allowed to re-enter the field concussed. It’s a tricky situation though, especially since we don’t have all the facts of what occurred. Every concussion is different. The symptoms are different, the timing of when those symptoms first begin to show themselves is different, and the amount of time necessary to recover from one is different. They’re the injury equivalent of a snowflake.

It’s entirely possible that Spector didn’t show any symptoms of concussion during the on-field evaluation, and it only became apparent at halftime that he shouldn’t be allowed to continue. We simply have no way of knowing.

Regardless of whether the situation was properly handled though, it is still alarming that Spector played nearly 30 minutes of soccer while concussed. There’s something called Second Impact Syndrome (SIS), which occurs when an already concussed individual sustains a second concussion before having fully recovered from the initial one. SIS can lead to rapid swelling of the brain, respiratory failure, the brain stem shutting down, and death. SIS is one of the reasons behind the concussion protocols being put into place in various sports.

Much of the spotlight, especially in the NFL, has been on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that normally rears its head after a player has hung up his or her cleats. But when it comes to things that can affect players immediately, SIS is the concern.

Due to the variable nature of concussions, there is no exact timetable for Spector’s return. Since there’s really no way of knowing if the situation was handled correctly or not, let’s not waste time with speculation; that doesn’t do any of us any good. Instead, we should all learn from what happened and do our best to make sure these sort of things don’t happen again.

Whether it’s you playing a sport or perhaps a friend, child, or even someone you’re coaching; if you have even the slightest reason to suspect that someone is concussed, then do not let them go back out and play. Even if it’s “the most important game of the season” don’t let them go back in — you’ll be doing them a favor in the long run. In the end, the only way this sort of thing gets better is by practicing what we preach, from the lowest level, all the way up to the highest.