Steelers Face Backlash Over Handling of T.J. Watt Concussion

T.J. Watt

Getty The Pittsburgh Steelers received criticism on Twitter for how they handled T.J. Watt's injury during Week 14.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have faced plenty of criticism for losing back-to-back games to opponents eight games below .500. But the Steelers now also find themselves in hot water over how they handled star outside linebacker T.J. Watt’s injury in Week 14 against the New England Patriots.

Watt suffered a blow to the head from the leg of Patriots running back Ezekiel Elliott on the first play from scrimmage. Watt exited the game and entered the blue tent to receive an evaluation.

But he returned to play about his normal amount of defensive snaps — 52 plays on defense (91% of the team’s defensive snaps) and 4 on special teams.

Two days after the game on December 9, Pro Football Talk reported that Watt had entered the NFL concussion protocol.

NFL fans on Twitter questioned during the game whether Watt should have been allowed to return. The Amazon Prime Video cameras showed the defensive star appearing a little dazed on the sidelines.

Amazon Prime’s Kaylee Hartung reported the Steelers added a visor to Watt’s helmet to help him return to the game.

With the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year entering the concussion protocol on December 9, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio joined the group concerned about whether Watt should have returned in Week 14.

Florio wrote on December 10 that he has made three attempts to ask the NFL if there was a failure to remove Watt from the Patriots matchup. The league has yet to respond.

“There has been, and at this point likely will be, no response,” Florio wrote. “And that’s fine. But it will only increase suspicions that the process was mishandled from the get go.

“That Watt should have been removed from the game due to the concussion that would, the next morning, result in Watt landing in the concussion protocol.”

Mike Florio Questions Handling of T.J. Watt Injury, Suggests Change to Concussion Protocol

Florio raised two points about Watt’s Week 14 injury in the form of questions on December 10.

Concussion symptoms sometimes don’t appear until a day or two after contact to a player’s head. That could have been the case with Watt. But Florio argued now that the NFL is aware that concussion symptoms can be delayed, perhaps all hits to the head should be enough to rule out a player for safety purposes.

“Some will say that, in certain cases, the symptoms start the next day,” Florio wrote. “If so, that’s all the more reason to make decisions based on the force of the impact to the head and the various other non-concussion injuries that happen.

“Face. Mouth. Jaw. Eye, apparently. At some point, common sense has to overcome whatever checklist the doctors are blindly applying in order to keep a player in a game.”

Following common sense instead of a check list could be a slippery slope. There’s still a lot of gray areas in diagnosing concussion, so common sense isn’t often very simple.

But Florio’s other important point was that Watt’s symptoms may not have been very delayed.

One symptom of concussions is light sensitivity. It’s possible the Steelers installed a visor to Watt’s helmet because he suddenly became sensitive to light. The NFL didn’t answer Florio’s inquiry about why the Steelers added a visor to Watt’s helmet.

Furthermore, Florio’s colleague, Peter King, told him on December 8 that the Steelers cancelled King’s preplanned postgame interview with Watt because he had a migraine.

Headaches and migraines are also concussion symptoms.

Steelers Face Criticism on Social Media Over Watt’s Head Injury

Because the NFL has not responded to Florio, it remains unclear whether protocol was followed after Watt sustained a hit to the head in Week 14.

Fans on X (formerly Twitter) have already devised their own theories.

“He got hit in the head twice, he got a tinted visor. He got smelling salts. And he was allowed to finish the game,” DocFlynn wrote on X. “These are missed opportunities to call a symptom a symptom on Thursday, not Friday.

“No blame or shame, we just have to learn and do better.”

Although other fans on X agreed, they called for more “blame and shame.”

“Doctors knew. Trainers knew. Coaches knew. Equipment guys knew. Neurotrauma team knew. Broadcasters talked about it so WE knew,” Derek Silva wrote. “And yet he got back in the game. This could be a ‘bookmark moment’ for the NFL someday, especially if there’s ever future litigation by TJ or the NFLPA.”

“There should be A LOT of blame actually,” the X account For the Shoe wrote.

“No blame or shame?” asked the X account Captain Grigson’s Hair. “He was obviously concussed. Steelers took years off his life to win a game.”

Regardless of what happened during the game, Watt will now have to clear the concussion protocol to be able to play in Week 15.

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