If you ever wondered why the NFL world has placed such an emphasis on concussions in recent years, the story of Tyler Varga's 2015 season might provide yet another example.
Varga made the Colts' roster as an undrafted free agent out of Yale after impressing in the preseason, but after just a few weeks he suffered a concussion - one that ended his season. The Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer recently wrote a terrific profile on Varga's concussion and recovery, and it turns out the symptoms were bad enough to make him consider quitting football. The symptoms from a concussion suffered in September didn't end until January. At first, he didn't say anything because he didn't want to lose a roster spot and wanted to believe he was just sick, but before long he admitted to the Colts doctors that he suffered a concussion. And his comments on the treatment don't exactly paint the team doctors in the best light or as being too helpful.
For the next couple of weeks after telling the doctors, he kept failing the concussion test, and then the Colts doctors prescribed the drug Amantadine to treat it (which Keefer notes is indeed sometimes prescribed to treat concussions). Varga, who studied evolutionary biology and knows a thing or two about prescription drugs, did his research before taking it. Varga reached out to some doctors he knew and every one of them said the same thing: "Don't take that." The side effects, which could include reactions similar to schizophrenia, scared Varga away and he refused to take the drug. The Colts doctor was ok with that, but then 45 minutes later the running back was placed on injured reserve, ending his season.
Then, in December, the Colts brought him back to the facility for an on-field workout that included hitting tackling dummies while dressed in a helmet and shoulder pads. It made the symptoms worse. “Basically I went backwards,” Varga said. “I came back in the locker room afterwards and some of the guys were like, ‘Why are you doing that? Why do they have you hitting stuff if you’re on injured reserve? I was like, ‘I don’t know.’”
The story isn't really a good look for the Colts, as it shows the Colts doctors as not helping much in Varga's recovery from a serious concussion. While it doesn't seem as if the doctors were neccessarily in the wrong (as, after all, Amantadine is sometimes prescribed for concussions and on-field workouts aren't unheard of for injured players), it's still not a great look for them at all. Basically, the Colts tried to push a player to take a drug he wasn't familiar with nor comfortable taking, and then when he didn't take it, they placed him on injured reserve to end his season (the article implies a correlation between those two things, though there's certainly another side to the story we haven't heard). Then later in the year they put him back on the field to work him out despite the fact that he was on IR, and it made his symptoms worse. There's really no defending the Colts doctors on this; it makes them look really bad.
While not overlooking that, however, perhaps another takeaway is the still uncertain nature of concussions. Despite so much research that has already been done, it's clear that there's still not a great understanding of concussions or treatment. It's a different situation for each person, and that's why it's so hard to address. Clearly, concussions are a serious issue in football, and it's obvious that even team doctors don't always know how best to treat them.
Ultimately, it's hard to read the story (which is well worth your
time limited page view allocation from the Star's paywall) and not be rooting for Tyler Varga. He has yet to put on shoulder pads since returning from the injury and is unsure how things will go once he hits the field, but he has decided to return to give football another try. We're certainly rooting for him to stay healthy and produce on the field.