The NFL and Its Concussion Policy—Sincerity Needs to Step Up!

There seems to be something inherently wrong in promoting an 18 game season and striving for player safety. Those “two” just don’t go hand-in-had. But evidently Roger Goodell thinks they do. Just this week Goodell continued to push for season expansion, obviously to put more money in the coffers. And in the same breath he continued to support “the NFL’s commitment to player wellness.”

The fact is there were 240 concussions in the league last season, a bunch of those coming in the second half of the season. Beat-up bodies. Tired legs. Not a lot in the tank to defend against that next big hit.

But let’s face it, Goodell has to wear two hats. In one role he’s “the head of a $9.5 billion business…charged with seeking out growth opportunities for the league. And adding two more regular season games could boost NFL revenue by $500 million per year.”

In his second role, “Goodell has to continue espousing the NFL’s commitment to player safety, especially given the industry-shaking lawsuit beginning to move through the courts.” And to the man’s credit, there has certainly been progress made in player safety of late.

But here’s where the rub comes in—the league can do more.

One thing that has not been made clear is determining “just how many brain injuries there actually are.”

In the case of the Oakland Raiders over the past three seasons, they “reported 32 player concussions, based on data collected by The Concussion Blog.”

On the other hand, the count for the Houston Texas was three.

This wide range in numbers seems to indicate that the Raiders “have been much more proactive about tracking and reporting brain injuries, and sitting players as their injuries are identified.”

So how does everybody get on the same page? “Standardize terminology, standardize injury response”—for starters.

Using different terms for the same injury is not uncommon. As an example, “PBS Frontline notes that a player can be listed as suffering from a generic ‘head’ injury when he’s actually wrestling with a concussion. This colludes the issue and skews the results, weakening the proposition that the league is sincere about player safety.

Another issue the league has to contend with is job security. Players, in many cases, will not reveal symptoms; they’ll play through head trauma.

In the case of 49ers QB Alex Smith, he self-reported a concussion, which led to job-loss. Enter Colin Kaepernick. QB Greg McElroy, on the other hand, “waited days to tell the New York Jets he was experiencing his own symptoms before getting benched.”

How to deal with this? Concussed players should receive protection.

According to Dustin Fink of The Concussion Blog, “If a player gets a concussion, make it a 10-day minimum injury, so [he] will miss at least a week; if a player received his concussion due to an illegal hit … then the offender should be suspended one week.”

Fink also has a suggestion that would add flexibility to teams’ rosters. “The NFL should have a concussion designation for the 53-man roster and impose four extra slots for concussed players that can be placed there and put back on the roster. The minimum stay [could be] two weeks—and any team found ‘gaming’ this rule will forfeit their 1st round draft pick.”

Then there’s the mounting concussions syndrome as the season reaches its end—the result of the current 16 game schedule, plus the playoffs. How do you cut down on the concussion count? Actually, the solution here is simple, but certainly unpopular. Go from a 16 game season to 14 games. More byes, more rest. Time for players to heal. All prudent safety measures.

Cutting back on the number of games is certainly not a proposal that Goodell will ever put on the table. That begs less revenue and, for sure, unhappy fans. However, you could add “another round of playoff games–which carry huge margins for the league.”

Still, it won’t happen, but it’s hard to argue…less games, less injuries.

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