The NFL and Concussions – Final Project

Jennifer Castro

It is important to be aware of the dangers of concussions, especially in sports. With sports acting as such a prominent part of our society, as well as within other societies around the world, it must be known that these types of injuries exist and can potentially cause serious problems for people. As someone who has endured multiple concussions myself from playing sports, it is important for me to educate others who may not know much about this ailment. There are concussion issues in many sports, but football seems to be in the news the most, especially surrounding the NFL and CTE. 

The following timeline describes new NFL policies, guidelines, news, and traumatic deaths relating to concussions.

CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and it is a neurodegenerative disease that results from repeated trauma to the head. Over the years, many players have unfortunately committed suicide or become severely mentally ill as a result of head trauma from playing football. The most recent finding came when news broke that Aaron Hernandez, former New England Patriot, showed a severe case of CTE. He was convicted of murder, which was vacated after he committed suicide in his jail cell last year. 

I wish I could say that I see the concussion issue getting better in football, specifically in the near future, but my guess is that the NFL will continue to mainly deny any linkage between football and CTE and more and more athletes in the coming years will be diagnosed with it. The movie Concussion solidified that opinion for me. It is so sad to see top executives refusing to acknowledge the dangers of the sport they oversee. It took until 2016 for the NFL’s Senior VP of Health and Safety, or any senior NFL official for that matter, to acknowledge a link between football and brain disorders like CTE, but he is the minority, if not the sole person to say it publicly.

From the NFL Player Concussion Pamphlet, some common symptoms of concussions include: imbalance, headache, confusion, memory loss, loss of consciousness, vision, hearing, and mood change, and fatigue. There are more symptoms that exist, but those are the most common, at least in football. Here is a pie chart relating to the NFL positions who experienced concussions in 2015.

Depending on the severity of the concussion (or concussions), people can experience these symptoms for a short amount of time or for the rest of their lives. For me personally, my concussions occurred in my sophomore and junior years of high school. Multiple symptoms still linger six years later, and I’m afraid they’ll stay that way forever. I simply cannot imagine how football players’ brains sustain the brunt of the hits they take so often. I’ve struggled so much with just a short amount of hits to the head. They are subjected to numerous hits in just one practice. It scares me to think about these athletes and their well-being going forward. My fear is that football continues to get more and more violent with the severity of hits that occur. We’re seeing players, especially at the NFL level, being stretchered off the field with head, neck, and spinal injuries, and at the same token, we’re seeing these players take brutal hits to the head and then going back into the game the next play. The NFL must continue to alter its policies to make player safety the utmost priority. I simply do not believe NFL executives and Commissioner Goodell have the players’ interests in mind at this point in time. They are truly concerned about how much their salary is and much less on how their league is destroying players’ lives.

The Infogram chart below depicts the number of reported concussions within the NFL during preseason and the regular season. 



What’s interesting is that the postseason is not included, which can sway results, most likely increasing the total number if in fact it was included. While the graph shows the total between preseason and regular season, within the original graph itself, it splits up incidences for: preseason practices, preseason games, regular season practices, and regular season games. What is strange to me is that preseason practices between 2012 and 2017 range from 26-45 incidences of concussions, depending on the year. However, from this same time frame in the regular season, the incidences of concussions ranges from 3-11. This seems extremely bizarre to me. I’m not sure how there were just 11 reported concussions in 2017 during regular season practices versus 45 in preseason practices. Preseason is much shorter than the regular season and the prevalence of practices is also shorter (there are significantly more practices in the regular season than in the preseason). I’m stuck on the reasoning that relates to these statistics, but it’s what the NFL reported so I guess we have to go with it.

As we can also see from the chart, this past season was the NFL’s highest incidence of concussions between the six years noted, with 281, a big jump from 243 in 2016. This may have something to do with the NFL and NFLPA’s (NFL Players’ Association) new policy that was enacted to enforce concussion protocols in 2016. This policy penalized teams more heavily through fines and the ability to lose future draft picks if they failed to report concussions or refused to follow the new rules. It also highlighted the importance of self-reporting, which went up in 2017. 

Down the road when I have children, I would love for them to play sports and pursue the ones they’re passionate about for as long as they can. I will always worry about their safety, especially when it comes to head injuries. I don’t want to necessarily restrict them from doing something they love, but I would be extremely hesitant to allow them to play football. Granted, you can sustain concussions in other sports, but the brutality of the hits in football is simply horrifying, and it starts at such a young age.

Talking about this subject isn’t easy for me, but it is necessary in order to raise awareness and give people the opportunity to realize how serious this issue is, particularly when it comes to sports. My hope is that continued awareness becomes more prevalent in today’s society and the NFL takes players’ safety into higher consideration in the future.

The information relating to the timeline can be found here.

The information relating to the NFL positions where concussions were found in 2015 can be seen here.

The information relating to the incidence of reported concussions from 2012-2017 can be found here.