At the beginning of January the NFL expanded concussion guidelines to include the ability to “allow the (team) medical staff to review the network video of any play during which a player was injured.” This change was prompted by the December 8 concussion received by Browns quarterback Colt McCoy in a game against Pittsburgh.
McCoy was not tested for concussion symptoms after the hit (he should have been), and was sent back into the game even after displaying concussion symptoms (he should not have returned to the field).
There is enormous pressure on NFL players, coaches and athletic staff to look the other way when it comes to concussions. Money, personal pride, and team reputation all contribute to this situation. The NFL has reluctantly implemented concussion guidelines, mainly because any rules that mandate the removal of star players are bad for their multi-billion dollar business.
I think it might be time for a public discussion on the reality of professional football, which can be viewed as an entertainment franchise:
- American football is an intentional heavy contact sport — no getting around it. Heavy contact team sport is also what draws a lot of fans.
- Serious concussions can and do happen. This is simple physics, personified by a 250lb linebacker pointed in any direction.
- Professional football is a high reward/high risk proposition. Professional players are compensated for the risks they assume. Fans pay for the privilege of watching their favorite team battle an opponent.
With so much money on the line, I doubt things will change much at the pro level.
The real change may begin to happen in high school football, however. Most US states have now passed school sports concussion legislation, with much of the focus on football. State legislation will typically require mandatory concussion management policies that school administrators and athletic departments are responsible for implementing.
State legislation may be a first step in evaluating the relative risks and benefits of team sports like football, soccer, basketball, and baseball. I can see the future possibility that school districts could terminate certain sports programs based on the legal and health risks associated with a particular sport.