When the New Orleans Hornets’ Anthony Davis, this year’s number one overall draft pick, went down with a concussion in the team’s second game of the season last week, he was forced to exit the game and then stayed in New Orleans for further evaluation instead of traveling to the team’s next game in his hometown of Chicago.
The NBA has been proactive in dealing with concussions, and its policy mandates that players pass a series of tests to make sure they aren’t still dealing with the effects before they return to the court. So even as heightened awareness about concussions in football and other sports has made leagues and athletes more aware about the dangers of playing through head injuries, Hornets coach Monty Williams blasted the policy before the team played in Chicago:
“When you’re dealing with the brain, I guess what’s happening in football has impacted everybody,” Williams said before the game. “He got touched up a little bit last night. That happens a lot in basketball. It’s just that now they treat everybody like they have white gloves and pink drawers and it’s getting old. It’s just the way the league is now.”
“It’s a man’s game,” Williams said. “They’re treating these guys like they’re 5 years old. He desperately wanted to come, but he couldn’t make it.”
The idea that protecting players from potentially damaging head injuries is handling them with “white gloves and pink drawers,” that players are too sissy to return to this “man’s game” if they aren’t immediately back on the court, is exactly why concussion protocols like the NBA’s are necessary. Davis may have wanted to get right back on the court, and Williams may have wanted to get him right back on the court. But that doesn’t mean the best decision for Davis’ health and future was getting him right back on the court.
Williams seemed to realize that later in his rant, when he moderated his stance:
“I’m not saying I don’t like (the policy),” Williams said. “We’ve got to protect the players, but I think the players should have more say-so in how they feel. I’m sure I had four or five concussions when I played, and it didn’t bother me. The NBA is doing what’s necessary to protect the players, but this is not the NFL. You don’t get hit in the head that much. I understand it. But as a coach, I’m a baby about it. I want my guys ready to play. That’s basically the bottom line; I’m just a baby.”
It’s understandable that Williams wanted Davis on the court: he’s arguably the team’s best player. And it’s understandable why Davis would want to get back on the court: the Hornets don’t have another game in his hometown this year. But the more we learn about concussions and how they effect athletes in all sports — from football to stock car racing to gymnastics to basketball — the more evident it is that medical professionals should be the ones with the most “say-so” in when a player like Anthony Davis gets to return to the game, whether players and coaches like it or not.