The National Football League (NFL) should make rule changes to further protect the players. Player head injuries have increased throughout the existence of the NFL and now it’s time to reduce the number of head injuries before it gets worst. Concussions lead to brain damage, memory loss, and even worst Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy(CTE). Although rules changes to the NFL might lower popularity, excitement, and interest in football, it may be necessary to ensure player mental safety and prevent concussions and CTE.
A concussion is a temporary unconsciousness normally caused by a violent shock or blow to the head. Obviously, violent blows and hits to the head happen multiple times in just one game of football. Although they are not life threatening they can lead to long-lasting brain damage even permanent memory loss. In rare cases, multiple concussions can lead to death. CTE is much more severe. It is caused by multiple concussions but is more than just memory loss. CTE can’t be found in the brain until an autopsy is performed, but CTE has four major stages to be aware of. The first stage is most commonly marked by headaches and attention loss. Stage two is associated with mood swings, aggressive tendencies, and depression. Stage three is mainly memory loss and executive dysfunction. The last stage is the appearance of severe cognitive problems which ultimately change who you are.
Concussion protocol on the field is a huge step in the right direction. It is on the sidelines of the field so the players don’t have to wait to be helped. There are four steps to pass in order to return to play. Anthony Riccobono gives us the list in order and the procedures taken in his article NFL Concussion Protocol: What Are The 5-Stages For Diagnosis And Management?. To start off a player returns to baseline status of symptoms and neurologic exam, this includes cognitive and balance functions. Repeated neuropsychological evaluations are performed before return to practice or play with an understanding of the results by the team doctor. The team doctor reports the results back to the team physician. Next, there is an exercise challenge, followed by a gradual return to practice and play. The Return to Participation protocol following a concussion follows a stepwise process to be outlined in the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee’s Return to Participation Protocol. Prior to return to practice or play, not only must the team physician clear the player, but the Independent Neurological Consultant with expertise in concussion must also evaluate and clear the player for return to practice and play. Lastly a player may be considered for return to practice and play only after the player has returned to baseline status with rest and exertion, has repeat neuropsychological testing which is interpreted by the team neuropsychology consultant as back to baseline levels of functioning, and has completed the Return to Participation Protocol referenced above and is cleared by the Team Physician and the Independent Neurological Consultant.
One specific rule that has recently been enforced to reduce brain injuries is the Use of the Helmet rule, it is known in the Playing Rule Proposal in section #11, Article 8. It states If a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. It is a penalty that will result in the loss of fifteen yards and the player may be disqualified. If this penalty is against the defense it results in an automatic first down. If it’s against an offensive player the offense is moved fifteen yards back. The referees throw the flag on a play involving helmet to helmet contact when they believe there was another option rather than using their head. Also similar to the targeting rule in college football which is when a defensive player hits a defenseless offensive player above the waist using the crown of his helmet, an NFL player cannot take a clear path and hit a player above the waist with the crown of their helmet. Obviously, these rule changes are enforced to help protect players, but the viewers and fans don’t appreciate how soft and boring the NFL and referees have become.
The NFL has done studies to show the decrease the number of concussions around the league. They even said that the number of concussions had fallen 11.3 percent during the 2016 football season.
As the chart shows there was a spike back up during the 2017 season in the incidence of concussions. To help lower these numbers there is a number of things that can be done as simple as wearing proper equipment at all times even practice. Proper gear includes helmets, mouth guards, shoulder pads and leg pads. Making sure to teach proper technique and skill to players and also practice it. Most teams, players, and fans get excited when a big hit happens. Showing the excitement of this makes it seem okay to hurt other players when it should be discouraged. Sadly these precautions and protective gear are not enough to prevent concussions and even CTE.
Players, coaches, and even fans sometimes go to social media to complain about rule changes and referees. The common complaints are often focused on bad calls against players that the players feel shouldn’t have been called. Most players feel they get paid to do a job and the referees stop them from doing the job. Coaches have the same problem with the referees, they feel the refs ruin outcomes of games with bad calls and unnecessary penalties. The fans hate it, even more, seeing their favorite players and teams losing games due to bad calls and penalties. Complaints about the strict rules and severity of the penalties are constant during the season and even the offseason. Players getting ejected from games or even suspended for multiple games is a recurring pattern in the NFL.
Viewership and fanbase are at an all-time high in the NFL as of recent studies. Many variables are causing this such as referees, rule changes, penalties, the loss of aggression, and how long and boring games are. Referees get the most scrutiny aside from the commissioner Roger Goodell. The men in white and black shirts are the root of all evil to fans in football. The refs can either save you or destroy you with a simple throw of a yellow flag. The yellow flag is the penalty flag and signals stoppage of play and usually results in a loss or gain of yardage. The penalties can ruin outcomes of games due to the severity of yardage, and if the player gets ejected or not. When the penalty is against the fans team it could ruin their day as much as the team’s season. The fact that the number of big hits and aggression have gone down makes the game less appealing to fans. Football is associated with people hitting each other hard and making big plays. Gameplay in the NFL has extended due to all the play stoppage and penalties in the game today.
Although rules changes to the NFL might lower popularity, excitement, and interest in football, it may be necessary to ensure player mental safety and prevent concussions and CTE. Sacrifices must be made in order to ensure safety and protect players. Rules may not be fun for everyone, but they will make it safe. To make football safe for the players it would have to lose what people love most about it.
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