The NFL Fights Concussions

Morgan O'Rourke


April 1, 2011

Concussions remained a big issue in the National Football League this past season as more and more players missed significant playing time due to head injury. According to the Associated Press, through week eight of the 2010 NFL season, 154 concussions were reported-a jump of 21% over the year before and 34% over 2008. But the news may actually have a positive spin. According to the league, reports are up because player attitudes about the seriousness of head injuries have started to change. No longer are players simply willing to "play through the pain" of a head injury, recognizing that these injuries could have serious consequences. In addition, the league has taken proactive steps to increase player safety and awareness, with rules implemented last year regarding tackling with the helmet and mandatory benching after a player suffers a concussion.

In February, the NFL took further steps to address concussions by instituting standardized league-wide concussion testing guidelines. The new system combines a symptoms checklist, cognitive evaluations and a balance test that will hopefully allow team trainers and doctors to spot concussion symptoms more quickly.

But despite the league's concussion mitigation measures, criticism remains. The February suicide of former NFL Pro Bowler Dave Duerson reignited head injury concerns when Duerson asked that his brain be donated to science because he believed he had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy as a result of hits absorbed during his playing career. It is a condition that has been discovered in the brain tissue of other football players who have committed suicide as well. This tragedy has led some to suggest that new equipment or a drastic change in NFL rules is really the only way to prevent debilitating head injuries from affecting its players.

Morgan O’Rourke is editor in chief of Risk Management and director of publications for the Risk & Insurance Management Society, Inc. (RIMS)