The only thing more troubling than the hit that rattled Calvin Johnson’s brain was what happened when he finally got back up.
The Detroit Lions’ star receiver had leaped gracefully to catch a pass thrown by Matt Stafford, but the ball sailed just beyond his grasp. Johnson was still airborne when Chad Greenway of the arch-rival Minnesota Vikings hit him squarely in the face mask with the crown of his helmet. The league’s best receiver landed in a heap, writhing on the turf. Ford Field fell silent. Greenway backed away, hands on his head, visibly shaken.
Trainers rushed to Johnson’s aid. Minutes later, they led him from the field. Upon reaching the sideline, Johnson fell to his knees and clutched his head. If ever there was a defining image of the epidemic of concussions sweeping the NFL, Johnson embodied it.
What happened next shows the NFL — despite a lot of talk, a national television campaign hailing its devotion to improved safety and a $30 million donation to the National Institutes of Health to study brain trauma — still cannot claim to have a coherent, effective way of dealing with concussions, let alone adequate tools for diagnosing them on the field.