The NFL and Concussions: They Care (but not really)

With the NFL season finally underway, America’s favorite obsession is back in full swing. However, as another year of hard-hitting action begins, the league seems no closer to fixing its most glaring issue, concussions. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find substantial evidence showing that the NFL cares about the issue at all.

Thursday night’s season opener between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos encapsulated the NFL’s attitude about concussions and traumatic head injuries. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton took a series of vicious hits throughout the game, culminating with this brutal helmet-to-helmet hit late in the 4th quarter.

After the play, Newton stayed in the game without being checked by team doctors — a clear violation of the NFL’s concussion policy.

Unfortunately, this isn’t even the worst example of a team breaching the NFL’s concussion protocol. An even more egregious error occurred during week 11 last season as the St. Louis Rams (now the Los Angeles Rams) quarterback Case Keenum was sacked and his head bounced violently off the ground.

Keenum remained in the game and wasn’t even checked for a concussion. Simply put, that shouldn’t be possible. Some of the symptoms the NFL’s concussion protocol lists are a player being slow to get up following a hit to the head, motor coordination/balance problems and a player clutching his head after contact. Keenum displayed each of these symptoms and yet, he was allowed to continue playing.

This sort of behavior from teams is simply unacceptable if the NFL truly wants to combat the issue of concussions. Why bother having a policy if teams aren’t willing to follow it? In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell laughably boasts that the league’s concussion protocol is improved and more strict than ever before. If that’s true, then why has there been no improvement from the previous season? Just like Keenum, Newton wasn’t even checked for a concussion — despite absorbing a disgusting hit directly to his head.

Unfortunately, the league and its teams probably won’t make any real changes until concussions start affecting the NFL’s profit margins. Why would they? The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to grow each year. In order for change to take place, the players need to take a stand for their own safety because fans aren’t going to stop pouring their money into the game. For the players’ sake, I hope something happens soon.

There needs to be a change in the culture of football. Players must prioritize their long-term health above the need to not appear “soft”. Sadly, I don’t think this will happen until more evidence about the long-term health issues associated with football comes to light. Like their league, the majority of players don’t really seem to care.

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