WASHINGTON, June 15, 2016 – Football is physically demanding and takes a toll on the body. At the professional level, there is growing concern about the long-term impact of working in such a dangerous field. Head injuries are a particular concern for the National Football League (NFL).
The NFL is proactively taking action to protect athletes and reduce the chance of injury.
Education is a critical component of injury prevention. Informing players about the dangers of contact sports has to begin at an early age, when children begin playing sports, to inform players, families, and coaches about potential long-term dangers. Young people tend to feel immortal and not able to fully understand the dangers of brain injury, so it’s also up to the adults to make sure certain precautions are being taken in order to keep players safe at every age.
The NFL is supporting education initiatives through Heads Up Football. This program offers education programs for coaches of youth and high school programs, teaches young players proper tackling techniques, and provides players, coaches, and parents with programs on injury and health awareness.
Education, prevention, and treatment are the most important aspects to understanding injury and finding ways to make the sport safer. Shifting focus from the importance of performance to the importance of safety is essential in lowering injury statistics and, despite the issues some have with Heads Up Football, the NFL is actively taking steps towards making football a safer place.
Another important element is improving equipment. Creating equipment to keep players safe is a key component in injury prevention for players. The NFL has strict rules on the equipment that players use and wear for many reasons, the most important of which being safety reasons. Sensors in helmets gathering data about head impact, committee’s testing shoes for durability and flexibility, and shoulder pads created for protection and comfort are all done in an effort to keep equipment safe and find ways to make them even safer.
Football equipment has come a long way from the leather helmets and pads that were worn when football started. The leather and moleskin helmets that preceded the plastic helmets created in the 1940’s provided minimal protection. From chinstraps to cleats the NFL has a committee evaluating the performance and safety of the equipment being used. They analyze injury data and work with manufacturers to create the safest equipment available.
Concussions are the biggest concern for the safety of NFL players and plagues athletes in all stages of football and across many different sports. Thanks to increased awareness of traumatic brain injury and concussions in football players, the NFL has a comprehensive set of protocols to manage concussions in players. Studies have shown a direct link between repeated head impacts and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which was previously considered a condition common to boxers.
This condition’s symptoms include confusion, dementia, and memory loss which can develop decades after the trauma originally occurred. Even head trauma not resulting in a concussion can lead to CTE later in life, which is why head and neck safety is so important. In an alarming study done on deceased NFL players, 96% of players had signs of CTE.
The NFL has given millions of dollars to the National Institutes of Health to support the important research on CTE. Doctors are on the field evaluating players after a hit in order to stop the game if they believe a player needs to be taken off the field and have the ability to stop players from returning to the game if they have a head injury. This issue is not only important to the NFL, but the players as well.
Baltimore Raven Eugene Monroe has been an advocate for research being done with marijuana and its use for NFL players suffering from CTE. The biggest change in the NFL making an impact on the health of players is the change in mindset that each player’s well-being is more important than the scoreboard.
The NFL has also implemented several rule changes to help keep players safe. For the upcoming season these are the rule changes made for safety of players:
- Chop blocks are illegal. Concussions are not the only common football injuries and the rule change about chop blocking will help to prevent ankle and knee injuries. Diving at a player’s planted leg greatly increases the chances of injury to that player and this rule change has been long overdue.
- Horse collar tackle expanded. A horse collar tackle involves grabbing a player by the back of the collar and pulling downward. This is a dangerous tackle and has been outlawed for years. This new rule expands the definition of collar to the nameplate area of a jersey.
- Moving the touchback. This rule is a trial run to see the effects of the change. Moving the touchback on a kickoff to the 25-yard line is to entice more touchbacks and decrease collisions on kickoff returns.
Rules like these are designed specifically to keep players from being injured. Football is a contact sport and breeds injury by nature, but it doesn’t mean everything shouldn’t be done to keep players as safe as possible.
From educating players, coaches, and parents at a young age, creating the safest equipment available, being aware of the major concussion issue, and changing rules to promote safety are all ways that the NFL is acknowledging the injury issue and working towards prevention.
There is still a lot of work to do in all areas of prevention, but the NFL has come a long way in keeping their players safe.