Being the biggest sports organization in America, the NFL has always had its hands full with concussions amongst its players. The main concern in such a sport should be about the safety of the players and ensuring that there will be no lasting effects for their lives beyond football. Football is very physical, which makes it brutal and dangerous, but there are rules and policies in place to ensure that these players are protected. Although the NFL has made adjustments, there is still room for a vast improvement for the future of the NFL and football altogether.
Concussions are much more severe than people may imagine them to be. The brain is sensitive and any significant hit to the head can cause damage to it. Although a concussion can occur from a blow or hit to the head, it can also be caused by a fall that causes the brain to move back and forth. Due to the physical impact on your body, there has been a continued decrease in high school students playing football. Fewer young people do not want to partake in football; their families do not want them playing football due to the consequences that will come with playing the sport for so many years.
According to nfl.com, there have been 1,597 concussions since 2015 across both preseason and regular season games and practices. Between the 2015 and 2019 seasons, there were at least 200 concussions amongst NFL players, with the most being in the 2017 season at a high number of 281. However, the past two seasons have seen a slight improvement with 172 concussions in the 2020 season and 187 in the 2021 season. Entering the seventh week of the football season, there have been 55 players that have suffered a concussion early in the 2022 season.
A topic of discussion in relation to concussions has been the focus of CTE. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disorder that is the effect of constant head trauma and concussions. CTE has been commonly found in those who have been involved in contact sports such as hockey, boxing, and football. The most recent player to have been found to have CTE was Demaryius Thomas. Thomas died in his home due to complications from a seizure. He was six months out from officially retiring as an NFL player and was only 33 years of age; his family later revealed that Thomas had CTE. Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau was another display of former NFL players having CTE. Seau played in the NFL for 20 years with three different teams. In 2012, Seau died by suicide when he shot himself in the chest; he was only 43 years old. Eight months later, the Department of Health and Human Services had disclosed that Seau did suffer from CTE.
The NFL Game Day Concussion Diagnosis and Management Protocol was created in 2011 by the NFL Head, Neck, and Spine Committee; a group of independent medical professionals and scientists with ties to the NFL, including consultants for the NFL Players Association. When a player sustains a blow to the head, the player enters the Concussion Protocol if one of the following occurs: the player displays or reports symptoms or signs suggestive of a concussion or stinger (a nerve pinch injury); or the sideline Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant (UNC) or both UNC initiates the protocol. When recovering from a concussion, there is no set timetable for a player to return. However, the player must pass the five phases of protocol and be cleared by the team’s physician.
Over the years there have been modifications by the NFL in aim to protect the players, made in design to get rid of potentially dangerous activity that could result in injury: rule changes to decrease the extremity of hits by players to each other, the advancement of equipment such as their helmets and reducing head impact severity, as well as millions of dollars funded towards medical research done to better understand and prevent concussions and other injuries.
In the third week of the 2022 NFL season, Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was pushed to the ground by an opposing player from the Buffalo Bills at the end of a play. As he fell, his head snapped back as it hit the ground. Tagovailoa then got up and immediately was wobbly and needed assistance as he tried to walk off the field onto the sideline. The signs seemed obvious that he had suffered a concussion or serious head injury of some sort. However, after being taken to the locker room he then came back to play in the second half of the game and help win the game for the Dolphins.
It was revealed that Tagovailoa had apparently only suffered a back injury and that he would be ready to go for their game versus the Bengals four days later. In their next game, Tagovailoa was sacked and as he was thrown to the ground he was laid flat with his arms rigid and his fingers curled up in what seemed to be a “fencing response”. He had to be taken off the field on a stretcher as all his teams came to his side and hoped for the best. Tagovailoa was quickly taken to the hospital where it was later revealed that he had a head injury and suffered a concussion. When asked about the incident, Tagovailoa said: “There was a point where I was unconscious. I couldn’t tell what was going on.” In addition, he did not remember
being tackled and stretchered out following his concussion versus the Bengals.
In recent weeks following this situation, the NFL was put in the midst of making change happen by public pressure. People wanted answers; they wanted solutions as to what was going to happen going forward. If there was something to come out of this, it highlights this widespread problem that has been prominent in the NFL for decades. Ultimately, the NFL decided to make adjustments to their concussion protocol. They revealed that players showing any signs of ataxia, the absence of full control over one’s body’s movements, will be prohibited from continuing play.
The mishandling of Tagovailoa’s situation was a disaster. People had every reason to get angry at the NFL for putting this young man’s career and life at risk. After taking the past few weeks off, for obvious reasons, Tagovailoa makes his return in Week 7 hoping to finish the season off and help lead the Miami Dolphins to success.
Photo Courtesy of nytimes.com