Butch Jones, John Currie respond to report saying Tennessee 'knowingly' kept concussed player in game

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones walks on the field after his team was defeated by Kentucky 29-26, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/David Stephenson)

Tennessee is denying a report that emerged Tuesday night saying its staff “knowingly” kept right tackle Brett Kendrick in the game Saturday against Kentucky while he had a concussion.

The Read Optional reported that Kendrick “played at least two quarters” with a concussion before finally exiting the game with 22 seconds left in regulation after vomiting on the sideline.

Vols athletic director John Currie issued a statement on the matter Wednesday morning and head coach Butch Jones addressed the report during his normally scheduled press gathering Wednesday afternoon.

Per VolQuest.com, Jones, as he always does, opened his media availability with the team’s injury report. It included Kendrick, who is listed as out for Saturday’s home game against Southern Miss. Jones was later asked — without naming Kendrick — if the UT staff knowingly played an injured player against Kentucky. He denied doing so and said he has “absolutely no say” in medical decisions.

From VolQuest.com:

“John Currie issued a statement earlier today and I’ll tell you this, we would never knowingly put a student athlete in harm’s way,” Jones said, going on to add that the decision wasn’t even in his hands once an injured player was identified. “Our medical staff has full authority on removing players from competition and also have the authority to return players to competition.

“I have absolutely no say in these decisions. The Southeastern Conference has also been very proactive in terms of having an independent medical observer in the press box that looks for these issues. The officiating crew also has full authority to remove an individual from competition.”

Jones added that in the event that the SEC’s medical observer in the press box suspects that a player has been injured they will buzz the official on the field who will remove the player from the game, a process that does not include the head coach.

Earlier Wednesday, Currie said the health and safety of student-athletes is Tennessee’s “No. 1 responsibility.”

Here is Currie’s statement, in full, via VolQuest.com:

“The health and safety of our student-athletes is our number one responsibility. Our sports medicine staff and team medical personnel have full autonomy and unquestioned authority during all team activities, including the ability to remove a player from competition and ‘return to play’ decisions.

“At all football games, the Southeastern Conference has a trained independent medical observer present who also has full authority to stop play and remove a student-athlete from competition assessment and/or treatment.

“We have a constant and consistently communicated expectation that all coaches, staff and student-athletes remain attentive to ensure that any potential injuries are appropriately addressed-with full intentions that student-athlete safety is never compromised.”

SECCountry.com reported Wednesday that Kendrick’s mother spoke to Currie about Brett playing injured after the game. Currie, the website reported, brought it up to Jones on Sunday and the coach “denied having any knowledge that Kendrick was played in a concussed state.”

Kendrick, a fifth-year senior, has been a starter for the Vols since 2015 and has started 25 games in his career. Tennessee has dealt with a bevy of injuries on the offensive line over the past two seasons, but Kendrick has managed to stay healthy. Saturday’s game was his 21st consecutive start.

After losing to Kentucky, Tennessee has dropped four straight games and is 3-5 overall. Jones said Monday he is “very disappointed” in the team’s record this season and “absolutely” expects to have the support of Currie for the rest of the season.

“I understand the expectations of Tennessee football and so do our players. It’s been one of those years,” Jones said. “When you look, I think we’ve had four games come down to the final play of the game. It’s being able to close games out.

“Just like anything, things don’t always go according to plan and we always say football is life just sped up a lot faster. That’s truly what it is and what you have to do is continue to just go about your business and work to be better for it.”

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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