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Texas criticized for playing QB Sam Ehlinger after head trauma

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The criticisms are either driven by rivalry hatred or attack the ‘Horns for a nationwide problem.

Oklahoma v Texas Photo by Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images

On Saturday in the Cotton Bowl, Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger hit his head on a tackle near the sidelines against the Oklahoma Sooners, remaining motionless for some time before undergoing concussion protocol and returning to the game after five plays.

“I wasn't ever confused where I was at all,” Ehlinger said after the game. “It was a hard hit. My head hit the ground pretty hard. And they were just taking precaution. I told them immediately I could go back in. I felt fine. They just took me into the tent to make sure everything was okay, go through the protocol and send me back out there.”

On Monday, head coach Tom Herman confirmed that there weren’t any lingering effects from the head trauma Ehlinger suffered.

“When it comes to injuries, we do what the doctor tells us to and when he says he's fine, he's fine,” Herman said. “And then yeah, we followed up. He was cleared for practice yesterday. He practiced and he feels great.”

However, that didn’t stop some criticism from pouring in, with rival fans using it as an opportunity to take shots at Herman’s integrity, along with an editorial making similar claims.

“[T]he handling of Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s frightening head injury should remind fans that collegiate athletic programs often do not have the best interests of players in mind,” wrote William Savage III, editor in chief and co-owner of nondoc.com.

As the editorial progresses, Savage points out the key differences between concussion protocol in the NFL and college and that the EYE-SYNC technology likely used to clear him to return may not necessarily correctly identify a concussion on the field in 60 seconds.

In other words, Savage’s criticism of the Texas decision to allow Ehlinger to re-enter the game focuses more on the specific failings of NCAA concussion guidelines rather than accusations of specific malfeasance by Herman. After all, Herman can only do what the doctors tell him.

Based on the available video, it’s impossible to determine conclusively if Ehlinger lost consciousness and there likewise haven’t been any indications from the school that the freshman quarterback actually suffered a concussion.

He was immediately cleared to practice.

Texas is also clearly making best-faith efforts to protect its players, becoming the third school to use EYE-SYNC technology, which is based 15 years of clinical studies, and becoming the first school to use the Riddell InSite helmet monitoring system for each player to track hits to the head.

There’s also some debate about whether ensuring that players stay hydrated could help reduce the risk of concussions, a possible benefit of Herman’s intense focus on eliminating dehydration in his football program.

With the adoption of EYE-SYNC and InSite, Texas is arguably doing as much or more than anyone else in college football to address concussions and head trauma, leveraging the available resources of the athletic department to invest in cutting-edge technology.

And given that there are no indications from the school that actually Ehlinger suffered a concussion, there are no indications that the EYE-SYNC technology failed in any way.

The doctors also have a responsibility to the players they assess — any criticisms of the decision to let Ehlinger play ultimately require either an accusation of malfeasance on their part or the belief that the NCAA guidelines simply don’t go far enough.

In regards to the latter accusation, there’s certainly merit to it, as Savage lays out. But that’s an NCAA issue with a nationwide scope.

As for everyone else piling on? If those rivals really cared about concussions, they would be better off spending time lobbying their schools to adopt the same technology as Texas or demanding that the NCAA match NFL concussion protocol.

Concussions and head trauma are undoubtedly massive and perhaps even existential threats to football, but using them as rivalry fodder is gross and doesn’t benefit anyone.