Communication Studies Nelson Andrew Vanstratum Concussions in the NFL Recently in the NFL, the issue of concussions has been thrusted into the spotlight, and for good reasons. From the 2009 season to the 2010 seasons, the amount of concussions increased by twenty-one percent denoting a serious problem in the NFL . The current NFL guideline regarding concussions is vague and needs to be changed. Currently the rule simply states that upon having a concussion, the player should not come back until he is fully asymptomatic.
The problem with this is that concussions are often times tricky to diagnose and test, and when you couple that with the players’ competitiveness and motivation to play, it often leads to players coming back onto the field before they are truly healthy. The current NFL guideline needs to be remodeled to enforce a stricter, more uniform policy amongst all NFL organizations. Because concussions deal with brain activity, uniform policies are often hard to implement but through advances in equipment and monetary punishments the NFL is making tremendous strides to rectify the issue.
Until recently, concussions were thought to have been a minor injury, an injury that would cause the player to sit out a few plays but not a whole game. Several former NFL players say that back when they played football, concussions were viewed as just a headache or a temporary loss of consciousness, but no big deal. Upon suffering a concussion, players were told to go back into the game a few plays later. If the player refused, coaches and media would often question the athlete’s toughness.
However through scientific research in recent years, concussions have become far more serious and even have long term implications. One prime example is former Philadelphia Eagle safety Andre Waters. A defensive back known for his hard hitting, Waters said he quit counting concussions after his fifteenth. Four years ago, at age 44, Waters committed suicide. After Waters’ suicide, Bennet Omalu, the doctor who studied his brain said the damage he discovered was consistent with that of 80- to 90-year-olds suffering from dementia . Waters’ family and friends were confused as to how e could have killed himself, but Omalu confidently states that football killed him. He killed himself because of C. T. E. , a form of degenerative brain damage caused by multiple hits to the head . After studying the brains of six former athletes, six of the six athletes suffered from C. T. E. Dave Duerson, a former Chicago Bear, also took his own life this past February due to his injury-filled NFL career. Before taking his own life, Duerson sent text messages to all of his family members requesting that his brain tissue be studied for C.
T. E. , a disease him and Waters both suffered from due to the violence of the sport (Schwarz). Until the last few years, C. T. E. was a relatively unknown disease; however, now it has proven to be deadly and nearly all former NFL players suffer from it due to amount of collisions they endure throughout their careers. With rising C. T. E. rates as a major cause of concern, one of the most difficult questions to answer when talking about concussions is trying to find out what exactly causes them.
Many critics believe that the older helmets should be replaced with more updated and sophisticated technology; however, others believe that the main cause of concussions stems from today’s players seemingly getting much bigger and stronger each year which has a direct effect on the speed of the game. Many athletes, including several University of North Park football players, believe that the speed of the game and helmet technology are the two main causes of concussions and that new technology should be developed in order to help reduce the rate of concussions.
Helmet companies have been trying for years to find a way to help reduce the number of concussions that occur each year throughout the game of football. Riddell, the official helmet of the National Football League, has made significant strides in an attempt to lower concussion rates. After four long years of research, Riddell believes they have developed a helmet that will take the first major step in the race to lower concussion rates. The Revolution(TM), a first-of-its-kind helmet, uses new technology with the intent of reducing the risk of concussions.
This computer designed helmet is the first significant structural change in helmets in over 25 years (“Revolution”). The most recent release of the newer technology helmets is the Riddell Revolution Speed helmet. The current helmets used today provide little comfort, and fit loosely causing the player’s head to move around inside of the helmet upon impact. This new technology provides added cushioning and stability, and research has shown a 31 percent reduction in the risk of concussion in players wearing a Riddell Revolution helmet when compared to traditional helmets (“Revolution”).
In an interview with Anthony Cappello, North Parks sophomore wide receiver, he stated, “When I hit it seems like the helmet absorbs most of the impact with me not really feeling anything. The cushion on the inside seems to provide me with the comfort that I need while playing. ” Another player with somewhat similar thoughts is early enrollee Zach Bahn , a cornerback for North Park University . “I absolutely love the helmet. I like to consider myself a physical player so anything that benefits the playing style I like and ensures the safety, I am all for it. With all of this being said, there are still people who believe that the new helmet technology is not going to put an end to concussions. Those saying this believe that the cause of concussions is due to the increased speed of the game. Many say that as the game speed continues to get faster, it will only allow for more severe collisions. Lucas De Jong, a former walk-on tackle at the University of North Park is one of these advocates proclaiming, “Big hits are a part of the game, so are the consequences and results that come from them. Lucas believes that the speed of the game is what causes people to watch the sport, and if the speed of the game is reduced then attendance and overall competition will suffer. Although Lucas is not a proponent of slowing down the game, he understands the long term implications of concussions and believes that something needs to change. According to one of the contributors to this article,Casey Smagala, he credits the concussion rate to both helmet technology and the overall speed of the game.
He feels that as time goes on, players do get bigger, stronger, and faster, but that is just a natural part of the game and the equipment used for the game should be modified to best suit the players. Football is a physical game in which injuries will occur one way or another. If the speed of the game is the issue then it is up to the manufacturing companies to address this by continuing to increase helmet technology to help prevent concussions. John Barnabee, The University of North Park sophmore starting running back, agrees with Casey.
Barnabee stated, “I feel like everything is heading in the right direction as far as the technology for the newly designed helmets goes. They are doing a good job trying to tackle a severe issue that continues to linger throughout our sport. ” Although the speed of the game will continue to become faster, Riddell’s new helmet technology is an attempt to counteract that speed by improving the stability and comfort of their helmets. Along with Riddell the NFL is working diligently to correct the problem.
Implementing new helmet technology is one way they have tried to fix the problem, but there are also many other ways. Last year in 2010, NFL fans began to see an increase in the number of penalty flags, suspensions, and monetary fines for hits deemed to be illegal by the NFL. Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, handed down harsh fines to some of the league’s best players for helmet-to-helmet contact on a defenseless receiver. Most notably of these players was James Harrison, a defensive player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was fined on three separate occasions totaling over $100,000 .
Many critics argue that fines such as these are changing the sport entirely and taking away from the players’ aggressiveness; however, due to the long term implications of concussions and the NFL’s belief that their first goal must be to protect the players, this change must happen. In fact, the NFL needs to clamp down even more; they need to start issuing suspensions. Most of these athletes make several millions of dollars per year so a monetary fine doesn’t affect them much, but once you start docking their pay and making them sit out games chances are their attitude on and off the field will change.
They will think consciously before they hit someone after the play is over, or take a hit on a defenseless receiver. Nonetheless, as it stands today the NFL’s punishment policies are weak and fickle especially when it involves some of the most talented players. Ray Anderson, vice president for football operations, warns players that future offenses will result in an escalation of fines up to and including suspension, yet the NFL has yet to suspend anyone. Judy Battista, a columnist for the New York Times, states “The failure to suspend players etroactively after one of the N. F. L. ’s most troubling days raised the question of whether the league had talked tougher than it was prepared to immediately act” . In other words, the NFL needs to develop a uniform policy. Concussions are a serious problem for all athletes, including the superstars, and preferential treatment towards these superstars is not a sustainable way to handle the issue. Suspension is the best way to send a message to the athletes, and the NFL needs to crack down by suspending athletes who produce these dangerous hits.
Not only has the NFL begun to punish athletes monetarily for dangerous hits, they also are implementing new concussion tests starting in the 2011 NFL season. A decision by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2010 season helped prompt the NFL to put new concussion tests into effect. During the 2010 season, Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley collided with teammate Ernie Sims and eventually stumbled his way back to the sidelines. On the very next possession, the Eagles put Bradley back into the game.
Later it was discovered that Bradley played the rest of the game with a concussion . Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, co-chair of the NFL’s head, neck, and spine committee, points to this reason as the impetus for new concussion tests. He remarks, “Had that not happened, we may not have had the NFL sideline examination [for concussions] this year”, and goes on to say the new concussion policies will protect against exactly what happened in Philadelphia .
The new concussion test policies still remain rather ambiguous due to a current work stoppage in the NFL; however, the new test will include a checklist of symptoms in the form of a cognitive test performed by the athlete, a limited neurological evaluation where the physician examines the player’s eye movement, and a balance assessment which is the newest component designed by Ellenbogen’s committee . Once again the NFL needs to strengthen this policy. Under these guidelines for 2011, players are allowed to re-enter the game as long as they pass this series of tests.
Players should not risk their futures and players should be required to sit out for the duration of the game upon suffering a concussion. As mentioned earlier, athletes are naturally competitive and if the teams leave the decision up to the athlete they will choose to re-enter the game without hesitation. Hopefully these new tests are tough enough and will prevent players from being allowed back into games after suffering from a concussion or even concussion-like symptoms. The last way the NFL is trying to solve this problem is through promoting safety at the youth level.
This new potential legislation stems from the aforementioned Dave Duerson’s request to have his brain studied. After studying his brain, the NFL decided that the best way to prevent the problem is to teach children at a young age. Currently 135,000 children between the ages of 5 and 18 are treated for a sports related concussion each year (“NFL”). In order to prevent this number from increasing, the NFL wants all 50 states pass a legislation bill requiring coaches to remove any player who shows signs of a concussion, and preventing the player from competing again until being cleared by a specialist.
So far, nine states have passed such laws according to the NFL . In Tennessee a rule is in place which states that after a player’s fourth concussion, he is no longer allowed to play that sport. While this rule may seem harsh, the TSSAA (the governing body of Tennessee high school athletics), knows how significant concussions are and is looking out for the general welfare of the student athlete. Not only is this a great rule for high school students and young athletes, but it is also a rule that should be put into effect in the NFL.
If a player suffers a certain amount concussions, say five, over the course of his career then he should be forced to retire immediately and the NFL should offer the player a generous retirement compensation package. After all, a concussion is a concussion no matter which level it occurs at. Tennessee has taken the first step forward by forcing athletes to quit after four concussions; this policy should also be administered in the NFL. The increased rate of concussions in the NFL coupled with the recent discovery of C.