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NBA fines Hornets coach Monty Williams for criticizing concussion policy

By Ben Golliver

*****

Hornets coach Monty Williams took a swing at the NBA's concussion policy. The league has punched back.

The NBA announced Tuesday that Williams has been fined $25,000 for "public comments that were critical of the NBA's concussion policy" on Saturday. Williams was upset that star forward Anthony Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, was unavailable for the Hornets' game against the Bulls because he had sustained a mild concussion after taking an elbow to the head from teammate Austin Rivers during a Friday game against the Utah Jazz. He didn't mince words, as reported by the Associated Press.

Williams unloaded before Saturday's game against the Chicago Bulls, saying, "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 (to Chicago), but he couldn't make it."

Asked what he doesn't like about the concussion policy, he said, "I'm not saying I don't like it. 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."

Williams had to know that a fine was coming given the nature of his comments, which were clearly intended to make a point with maximum impact and were not a mere slip of the tongue.

The NBA instituted a strict concussion protocol prior to the 2011-12 season. Any player deemed to have suffered a concussion must pass a series of tests and receive clearance from the NBA’s concussion program director, Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, before returning to action.

The point that Williams, an incredibly intelligent man, was trying to make is just not a good one. The NBA's concussion policy has been put into place precisely because players, some as young as 19-years-old, who have suffered serious head injuries should not be put in a position to determine their own health. Yes, the concussion policy requires teams to jump through a few hoops to get their players back on the court. That inconvenience is far preferable to a Wild West alternative, where team medical staffs find themselves under pressure from intense coaches and competitive athletes whose first impulse is always going to be to push the limits and deal with the consequences later.

Davis' absence in Chicago was particularly tough to take because it was to be his first homecoming game as a professional and it was the only time the Hornets will visit Chicago this season. That those memories were delayed until next season is truly regrettable. But a thoughtful system that helps ensure that a healthy Davis can play in as many games as possible over the next 15 years -- even if it costs him an important game -- is a worthwhile system. Williams, whose own playing career was nearly derailed because of a heart condition, should understand that point personally.

Update: On Wednesday, the Times-Picayune reported that Williams said, post-fine, that his original comments were "inappropriate" and "unfortunate."

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