Broadcaster Joe Buck speculated that a player whose arms were tensed and shaking from an assumed concussion was just cold. An expert says it shows the league’s messaging problem around head injuries.
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The NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers say tight end Donald Parham Jr. is recovering after being diagnosed with a concussion in last night’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Parham appeared to lose consciousness before being carted off the field. NPR’s Tom Goldman reports there’s been an uproar about how the frightening incident was covered on the national TV broadcast.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Donald Parham Jr.’s injury happened early in the game after catching a short pass for an apparent touchdown. He fell, and his head snapped backwards onto the turf. He dropped the ball and rolled onto his side. The camera zoomed in on his face, showing his eyes closed while both arms were bent and rigidly flexed. With the previously raucous crowd at LA’s SoFi Stadium now hushed, Fox Sports broadcaster Joe Buck described the scene.
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JOE BUCK: They’re bringing the backboard out. We’ve watched him move his hands, move his legs during the timeout.
BUCK: As he watched the broadcast, Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation in Boston, interpreted Parham’s flexed and trembling arms as a fencing response, which can happen after a concussion.
CHRIS NOWINSKI: He clearly suffered a brain injury and had a potential spine injury. And they were taking him out on a spine board.
GOLDMAN: But then Nowinski heard Buck say this.
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BUCK: The last thing we would ever do is speculate about any injury, especially that type. But when you see his arms shaking and his hands shaking on his way out, that’s the part that’s most unnerving. I will just add this. It is very cold, at least by Los Angeles standards, down on the field. And hopefully that was more the issue than anything else.
NOWINSKI: I was incredibly disappointed and frustrated.
GOLDMAN: Nowinski tweeted Buck’s comment represented rock bottom for sports broadcasting, and he wasn’t alone. Social media erupted, outraged that Buck would speculate about the injury after he said he would never do that, and that he said Parham was shaking because he was cold. For Nowinski, the disappointment wasn’t just because Buck made what appeared to be an uninformed comment. It was because of how it might be taken by those watching and listening. Parents, coaches and kids, he says, learn from NFL broadcasts.
NOWINSKI: That sort of coverage will literally get kids hurt because the next day, when a kid’s in a sport and they show concussion symptoms on the field, you know, if somebody has a tremor, someone’s going to go, oh, they just need to get a sweater, right? It’s – no. We need to take these seriously. They’re brain injuries.
GOLDMAN: He acknowledges the NFL has made great strides in taking these injuries seriously. Strong protocols now, for the most part, keep players out of games if they have a concussion or show symptoms. There are better prevention policies and treatment plans. Last night was an example, as staff from EMTs to independent medical professionals took immediate action when Parham got hurt.
Messaging, though, Nowinski says, is the next battle – how the country talks about concussion. And it’s especially relevant this week, when Boston University researchers, who collaborate with Nowinski’s foundation, revealed to former NFL players had advanced brain disease that’s been linked to football head injuries. Both died in their 30s. One of them murdered six other people before taking his own life.
Fox Sports did not respond to a request for comment about Joe Buck’s statement. The latest statement from the Chargers said Parham, who’s 24, stayed overnight at UCLA Harbor Medical Center for observation after being diagnosed with a concussion. He was alert and likely to be discharged soon. Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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