Are Concussions Really Decreasing in the NFL?

Unfortunately, concussions are a product of the NFL just like fantasy football, the Super Bowl, and touchdown celebrations. Ever since the effects of CTE entered the spotlight, the sport has faced scrutiny for its lackluster interest in concussion prevention and protocol. Try as it may to downplay and prevent the issue, the fact remains that concussions are a major problem.

A spike in 2017

Including preseason and practices, the league saw a 15.6% increase in concussions during 2017, according to USA Today. NFL players experienced 190 concussions in the regular season, with 46 during practices and between-game activities. Of these 190 concussions, players only reported 50 of them.

This makes sense to some degree. Players are focused on competing. Similarly to the controversy that surrounded Kevin Durant in the 2019 NBA Finals, looking the other way concerning a concussion can be seen as negligence by the team. Following 2017’s numbers, the NFL was challenged to do more. 

The NFL’s chief medical doctor, Dr. Allen Sills, discussed the increase with USA Today. “Certainly we are disappointed,” Dr. Sills said, “It is something which challenges us now to roll up our sleeves and continue to work hard to see that number come down.” But did the NFL follow through?

The results in 2018

Following new protocol aimed to promote player safety, the NFL hoped to cut those concussion numbers down. The results, at least when compared to the 2017 numbers, were largely a success. According to USA Today, concussions fell to 135, the lowest since 2014. The decrease marked nearly a 24% decline from the previous season. But the NFL wants to continue making those numbers fall.

“It’s not simply mathematical chance,” Dr. Sills told USA Today. “But it’s also not a reflection that we were any less vigilant in looking for concussions. In fact, we did more negative concussion screenings than we have ever done. We did four screenings to detect every one concussion. Or to say it in other terms, 75 % of our screenings were negative.”

The future of concussion protocol

With helmet issues making the news recently, the NFL appears to be addressing a situation they’ve long been accused of botching. With the 2019 season underway, it will be interesting to see if the decrease in concussions from 2017 begins a trend.