The NFL’s medical experts had their turn to speak Tuesday at the league’s owners meetings and said that some teams have responded to the NFL’s concussion crisis better than others. NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said that seven teams were flagged last season for having higher rates of preseason practice concussions than the rest of the league and required a “targeted intervention,” USA Today reports.
NFL: Concussions reduced after interventions
Sills noted that teams that received the intervention saw improvements year over year.
“In six of those seven clubs, the numbers did go down after the intervention,” Sills said. “That group as a whole had 23 practice concussions in 2017. They went down to nine practice concussions in 2018.”
Sills did not identify the teams. It’s a small sample size, and it’s hard to glean much from the results, a fact that the league acknowledged, according to the report. But NFL vice president of player health and safety Jeff Miller touted progress in the overall cases of concussions while cautioning not to get comfortable.
Do numbers back up drop-off claim?
“This is a substantial drop-off,” Miller said of the overall preseason concussion rate. “But I think Allen made the most important point, which is, this is good. But no one is claiming victory. There’s a lot of work to do.”
The league announced that the total number of concussions in preseason games and practices dropped from 91 to 79 from 2017 to 2018, a 13.2 percent reduction. USA Today noted that there were 71 reported concussions in 2016 and 83 in 2015 and 2014. Again, it seems difficult to tout a “substantial dropoff” when this year’s number doesn’t move the needle while looking at a broader sample. But it is encouraging that the league took an active step with teams that produced numbers suggesting dangerous practices leaving their players more vulnerable than others.
That is an effort that deserves applause.
Balancing safety with gameplay
One of the biggest storylines of the preseason and season has been the league’s attempt to balance player safety with the nature of an inherently violent game through penalties. A rule against players lowering their helmets to initiate contact was flagged 51 times through three preseason weeks and drew heavy criticism for affecting gameplay. The league has backed off on calling the penalty in the regular season and only saw four flags for the helmet rule through the league’s first four weeks.
Troy Vincent: Players need to play
NFL football operations chief Troy Vincent, a former defensive back in the league, acknowledged that players need to feel like they can play the game, ESPN reports.
“You gotta play,” Vincent said Tuesday at the fall meetings. “You hope that no player is thinking about a rule. We want them to play [with a] free mind where you’re just free and you play.”
It’s a seemingly impossible balance to strike. Football is a violent game based on collisions between large men wearing body armor. The NFL is and should be concerned about player safety and concussion prevention. But life-altering injuries are a natural consequence of the game. No amount of legislation is going to change that fact.