Way NFL Players with Concussions are Treated Changes


Due to unflattering media attention and a Congressional hearing last week in which the National Football League’s policies regarding head injuries were compared to those of the tobacco industry, teams will begin requiring players with concussions to seek advice from independent neurologists. This may be the beginning of a sea-change in how players with concussions are allowed to play, not just in the NFL, but in youth leagues as well.

Team doctors and trainers have been the ones who made the decision on if a player is fit for game day for decades, but questions about conflict of interest have entered the debate. If coaches or owners want the injured player in the game, are these doctors and trainers downplaying the injury to get the player back on the field? League Commissioner Goodell has insisted no independent or third-party is needed since the league already has a committee researching concussions. However, he relented after the recent basting by Congress.

At last month’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on football brain injuries, Mr. Goodell and the league were accused of impeding player care and playing down, ignoring, or lying about the long-term effects of concussions. While studies and anecdotal evidence have shown retired NFL players suffering the same kind of brain damage boxers exhibit, and dementia rates several times higher than the general population, doctors with links to the NFL are not necessarily shedding any light on the subject.

In 2007, the league took action to improve care for players who sustained concussions. All players were required to undergo baseline neuropsychological testing and then were retested prior to being cleared to play again. Players who were knocked unconscious were forbidden to return to the game the same day. A hotline was also set up for players to call if they felt they were being pressured by coaches against their doctor’s advice.

While independent doctors may help take a stand against coaches and owners who want their injured players to return to the game, there is concern that the players themselves may hide their head injuries. There are also concerns about guidelines right now. Third-party examinations may take place in another city with a rival football team, where that third-party neurosurgeon is the rival team’s doctor.

In any case, this is a good start to keep NFL players from struggling through life alone with an undiagnosed traumatic brain injury. This can also go a long way to reforming youth, high school, and college football, where successive concussions can ruin a life before it has even begun.