While the NFL is currently the most popular it has ever been, there is one issue that hangs over the head and future of the game—concussions. The traumatic brain injury has been part of football since the beginning, but it’s only in the past generation or so that medical science and public awareness of the long-term effects of concussions have really come to the forefront.
We know now that repeated blows to the head can be a cause of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE leads to memory loss, depression, dementia and, in the worst cases, suicides. After players like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson committed suicide, autopsies and researchers found that their brains showed clear signs of CTE. In addition, players like Brett Favre, Jim McMahon and Jamal Lewis have reported signs of memory loss and dementia, which are strong indicators of brain damage stemming from their playing days.
In recent years, the NFL has made significant strides in attempting to stem the tide of concussions. They’ve made multiple rule changes to protect players during action. They’ve implemented a strict protocol requiring players to be cleared by an unaffiliated physician before they can return to the field after suffering a concussion. They’ve funded research into better safety equipment and attempted to change the culture surrounding the game to help protect players. Still, the concussions continue to pile up. It’s not hyperbole to state that this is the most significant health crisis the sport has faced since skull fractures and excessive violence and on-field deaths spurred the formation of the NCAA and the introduction of the first leather helmets at the beginning of the 20th century.
Numbers and statistics only start to tell the story of the NFL’s issues with concussions, but cold hard facts can sometimes put things into a larger perspective. Here are 15 of those facts and figures that you may not have known.
15 Concussions Went Up in 2015
14 Not All Concussions Are Reported
13 At Least 100 Concussions Were Left Out of NFL Reports
12 Nearly Half of Players with Concussions Do Not Miss a Game
11 More Concussions Occur Later in the Year
10 Cornerbacks and Wide Receivers Suffer the Most Concussions...
9 …But Linemen Take the Most Hits
8 Brain Trauma Effects a Third of NFL Players
7 Half of Concussions Are Caused by Contact with Another Helmet
6 87 of the 91 Deceased Players Studied Had Brain Disease
5 The NFL Approved a $675 Million Settlement for Retired Players with Concussions…
4 …But Now They’re Paying More
3 Over 5,000 Former Players Have Sued the NFL Over Head Injuries
2 200 Players Did Not Accept the Settlement
1 We Still Don’t Know How Many Concussions Actually Occur
If you look at the data of reported concussions from last year, there’s a wide gap between teams with the most concussions and the least. Over the past few years, the Cincinnati Bengals have averaged 17 concussions a year, while the Miami Dolphins have averaged three. While there’s surely some luck in play, a more likely reason would be different standards of reporting at different franchises. Concussions can be tricky to diagnose—it’s not like a torn ACL or something which is fairly definitive. We’re still in the first steps of understanding precisely how concussions effect the brain, and as such, we don’t really have a universal standard or test for determining if someone is concussed. There’s still a lot of work to be done to even fully understand concussions, much less eliminate them.
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