Washington Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington knew he needed to get off the trainer's table after he heard Sam Huff say he should get back in the game.

It didn't matter that Arrington was hallucinating in the locker room after suffering a concussion. He found his helmet, returned to the field without the coaches' knowledge and intercepted a pass for a touchdown to end an 0-5 start in 2001.

Players rarely think they can't play. The tough-guy attitude needed to survive in the NFL allows nothing short of a broken bone or torn ligament to stop them. Even players with concussions so bad that they ponder retirement on Monday often want to play by Friday.

But the NFL finally is committed to saving players from themselves before it costs the players their long-term health and the sport its fiscal future.

Coach Mike Shanahan recognized Robert Griffin III's glassy-eye stare after the quarterback was hit on the chin during Sunday's 24-17 loss to Atlanta. Griffin said he was fine -- a classic example of a player not recognizing a concussion. Why, Griffin recently said there was no way he would leave on a cart, that he would jump off to re-enter a game.

Players need coaches to protect them, and pending litigation by former players is forcing the NFL to do so under the threat of coming trials that could bring billion-dollar payouts.

The dirty secret is some coaches, from pros and peewee, don't care about their players' health. They only care about winning. Not just in the 1950s but last week and next week.

Since the 1990s, NFL players often have been held out for one game after suffering a concussion, but it was a team's choice. There was no science to the treatments. Players could fake their way through tests.

But the real worry about Griffin isn't about this week or even whether it shortens his career. It's what happens in 20 or 30 years. Will Griffin suffer memory problems like former Redskins running back Stephen Davis, who recently blamed his financial woes on concussions suffered while playing? Dexter Manley and Mark Rypien are among 15 former Redskins players suing the NFL.

On Sept. 5, a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study of 3,500 players from 1959 to 1988 showed they were four times more likely to suffer from Alzheimer's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) than the general public. Hours later, the NFL donated $30 million for brain trauma research.

The NFL is trying to block concussion-related lawsuits that the Associated Press says number 3,377 players, including 26 Pro Football Hall of Famers. The trial is at least several years away, but the thought of losing has scared a league that makes $9 billion in revenue annually into mandating proper treatment.

Arrington never would return to a game nowadays. If nothing else, his episode taught teams to take away the player's helmet.

Whether Griffin quickly returns or needs a week off is now a doctor's decision. Too bad it took so long to become one.

Examiner columnist Rick Snider has covered local sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks or email rsnider@washingtonexaminer.com.