After years of turning a blind eye to the dangers of concussions, the NFL finally took its first few steps towards preventative measures. At the start of the 2015 season, the league increased the amount of sideline medical personnel and even brought in specific doctors who had the ability to call a medical timeout if they felt a player showed any sign of dizziness after a hit. In addition, they required players coming off of a head injury to pass a concussion evaluation process before they could once again return to the field. All their effort helped reveal a dark secret; the amount of concussions in the NFL has been higher than anyone previously anticipated.
When the league released its yearly report on concussions, the startling trend became apparent. Now that concussions are being properly reported, 182 were documented this past regular season, a substantial increase over the 115 accounted for in the 2014 regular season. This has left many wondering, how many undocumented concussions actually occurred prior to the NFL’s increase in awareness? If you include all of the head injuries that occurred in the preseason and practice as well, you are left with 271 concussions throughout 2015 alone, a massive number that the league must address.
As the medical industry learns more about concussions, it’s clear why this number must be brought down. Concussions have been linked to brain diseases such as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). According to research done by Boston University’s CTE center, the disease has become common among athletes in full contact sports such as football. CTE degenerates brain tissue, leading to potential memory loss, depression, and aggression after exposure to head injuries. The NFL has seen a list of former players all diagnosed with this disease after their death. Former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler and former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau represent some of the legends who battled the disease that formed in their brains due to untreated concussions. With the declining health of its players, the NFL has the means to reduce the number of head injuries moving forward.
To start, the NFL needs to crack down more than ever on players who commit illegal hits, and no hit results in more head injuries than when a player leads into a tackle with their helmet. The league’s yearly report showed that helmet-to-helmet tackles resulted in 92 concussions in 2015, more than all the other causes combined. Harsher fines and possible suspensions need to be implemented to limit the number of improper tackles. The next leading cause of concussions this past year was the playing field, whether turf or grass, which accounted for another 29 when players landed on their heads.
Though the increased medical presence helped to detect some early head injuries, it is still a work in progress, as there were countless incidents where concussed players were allowed to continue playing. Most notably during a week 11 match between the St. Louis Rams and the Baltimore Ravens, when Ram’s quarterback Case Keenum was pushed to the ground after a play. Despite hitting the turf head first, needing the help of teammates to stand and showing clear indications of a possible head injury, the team doctors did not take him out of the game, or even stop the clock to check up on him. The medical professionals showed an obvious disregard for Keenum’s health, proving that the current concussion protocol still needs some refining.
The new protocols have helped shed light on how many concussions actually occur in the NFL, but the league needs to take more steps towards actually reducing the number. Whether by implementing more strict fines, possible suspensions or improving the roll of sideline doctors, the NFL can keep the game competitive, while still improving its safety. Nothing is better than seeing a clean tackle, but the NFL needs to concentrate on eliminating dangerous hits. At the end of the day, concussions remain unavoidable, but it’s time for the NFL to start taking more actions to reduce them. Nobody wants to see another former player suffer severe depression and memory loss, all because the league didn’t care to look out for its very own players.