Red football helmet with a YC logo on the side sitting sideways on a wood table

The NFL has created headlines over the last few years for many reasons. Whether it’s the Deflategate issue with Tom Brady or Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, the famous league has had to find its way out of hot water for plenty of reasons. But it is the concussion debate in the NFL that has trickled down as far as college and high school football as well. So much so, in fact, that there is an increasing demand for change from the NFL to better protect its players.

The big problem comes from various studies and years of research that have shown signs of brain damage and other negative symptoms in veteran NFL players. Researchers have linked these issues to those players receiving multiple concussions throughout their years of playing. But can concussions really do that much damage? If so, what is the NFL doing to protect its players and the future of football?

Why Are Concussions So Dangerous?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. It happens either when there is a direct hit to the head or when an individual gets jerked back and forth violently. Many people think that in order to have a concussion, you have to be “knocked out,” but that isn’t true. In fact, in about 90% of concussions, people remain fully conscious.

There are short-term and long-term effects of concussions, and they increase in severity if you experience multiple blows to the head, like a football player. Some of the common signs and symptoms of a concussion include:

  • Headache
  • Lack of balance
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Vision or hearing issues

Though these short-term symptoms usually go away fairly quickly, multiple blows to the head resulting in concussions can create lasting damage to the brain. Some of the more common long-term effects of concussions are:

  • Memory issues
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease

Concussions in Sports

Some of the long-term issues can severely impact a person’s mental health. Because of this, people often associate some of the public mental health issues of football players with the concussions they’ve suffered throughout their career. A mental illness called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has typically been blamed for things like player suicides. CTE is a condition that is caused by repeated head trauma. Players like Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012, were found to have CTE. Unfortunately, CTE is typically only discovered after a person is deceased.

While the NFL and other major sports leagues have taken steps to protect their players, it unfortunately hasn’t been enough to prevent concussions entirely or cause a big drop in concussion numbers. For example, the number of diagnosed concussions in the NFL in 2012 was 265. In 2017, that number actually jumped to 291.

It’s important to remember that it’s not just football that has a problem with concussions. Sports like basketball, soccer, hockey, and even cycling are often associated with head injuries too. But when it comes to NFL players, the repeated blows to the head are creating more long-term issues. As more veteran players begin to recognize some of the symptoms of these issues, more awareness is being brought to the changes that need to occur within the National Football League.

What Is the NFL Doing to Prevent Concussions?

So, with the spotlight on the NFL when it comes to concussions, what is it doing to protect its players? They’ve claimed that they are taking more precautions to prevent further brain injuries. That includes enforcing new policies and rules, like the “use of the helmet” rule. This rule is designed to keep players from hitting their helmets against each other in a game — but it’s easier said than done, and some players even suggest that modifying tackles could be even more dangerous.

The NFL has also started to take advantage of different advancements in technology. This includes banning certain types of previously approved helmets and encouraging players to wear safer models. But, even with safer headgear, it will take some time to determine if it actually works and is effective in preventing concussions.

Better gear and safer rules are some of the best ways for the NFL to prevent brain injuries and concussions, but with numbers still growing each season, it’s clear that the league hasn’t yet found the solution to making a positive change for its players. But, thanks to growing awareness and a demand for better protection, it’s likely that the league will continue to take notice of this issue and work toward a positive solution to keep players healthy, even after retirement.