Are the NFL “Concussion Rules” Ruining the Game?

By Elad De Piccioto
 Pixabay /KeithJJ
*Updated 2018

It’s known that football is an intense and often violent game. However, in recent years, research has shown that the on-field violence we see has a price – and it`s not cheap. Are the long-term after-effects of football collisions and tackles a price that we, and more importantly, the players willing to pay? It’s been shown that frequent head blows and concussions that happen in football (among other physical contact sports) can cause Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease. CTE can cause long-term debilitating symptoms, including depression, memory loss, and even dementia; it has also already led student and professional players to commit suicide.

As a result, in 2009, the NFL put in action the “NFL GameDay Concussion Protocol.” The protocol specifies a list of symptoms for detecting concussions and offers guidelines for sideline evaluation.  If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, he is removed immediately from the pitch, and cannot return to play until he is fully recovered. While the Protocol has been tweaked over the since its introduction, in 2016, disciplinary action was introduced for teams that do not properly adhere to it. This concussion protocol has suffered widespread criticism by both fans and players, who suggest the new regulations are ruining the game.

Here are three supportive claims for the Concussion Protocol, and three claims against it.


Why Fans Should Embrace the Concussion Protocol:


The game will be changed, but for the better

Like everything in our lives, football also changes. But not all changes are bad. Look at what happened in the NBA: The rules changed – the game may have gotten “softer” but it also got faster, and players’ skills grew wider. The same goes for the NFL: With less violent tackles, players’ skills will develop gradually. The game will probably become faster.  A new form of player will evolve, possibly a hybrid type of player that is quicker, faster and smarter. If football were to evolve in this way, would you really stop watching it?


There is more to football than violent crushes!

You’re at work, talking with your pal about last night’s NFL game. Then he says something like, “Football is a violent sport…” My guess is that you’d probably explain that football is much more than violence – it’s about strategy, athleticism, teamwork and more. Well, guess what? These aspects are going to remain part of the game even when there will no longer be helmet-to-helmet crushes. Saying that the new protocols, which can save lives (!!), are ruining the game is minimizing the essence of game you love so much.


The new rules help to protect football`s integrity

Sports are about giving your best in every single moment. When a player suffers a concussion, he is not playing his best. His cognitive reasoning and functionality decrease; he will have problems processing information and concentrating.  The new baseline cognitive test helps to ensure that all the players on the football field can actually play their best. Isn’t that what football is all about?


Why Fans Should Reject the Concussion Protocol


Players now go to the legs more, causing more injuries than ever

With new regulations, defensive players now go lower to avoid drawing penalties, fines, and suspensions. This tendency has caused some horrific leg injuries, like those of Miami Dolphins’ tight end Dustin Keller, or of New England’s Rob Gronkowski.  Though long-term damage of head injuries is indisputable, talking short-term, some players actually prefer head injuries over leg injuries: “That’s tough to deal with [concussions], you may miss a game or two… But you still get to go home, walk home to your family,” said Dustin Keller, Miami Dolphins tight end. In fact, just to avoid leg injuries, other NFL players told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that offensive players are actually asking defensive players to be hit high rather than low.


There is no changing football

Physical collisions, including ones that cause concussions, are an inseparable part of football. Violence has always been a part of the NFL, and that’s not going to change, regardless of the rules, fines or suspensions that the league puts in place.  Even after the Concussion Protocol was introduced, Miami Dolphins’ linebacker Channing Crowder told “If I get a chance to knock somebody out, I’m going to knock them out and take what they give me…” And he is not the only one taking this kind of attitude, which is not surprising. The defensive players in football have been trained all of their careers to tackle and to tackle hard. This attitude is what has made them who they are.


The new protocol can backfire, risking players’ careers

Disqualification due to a concussion can damage players’ careers, not just their lives. A bad concussion protocol (a long record of concussions, with substantial time that the player has been ruled out from the field) means a threat to a player’s career. Thus, NFL players who have dedicated their entire lives to the game will do anything to stay out of the concussion protocol, including lying to their doctors. The new Concussion Protocol is well-intended but they may have inadvertently caused players to lie about their concussion symptoms, potentially exposing themselves to greater damage.


The Bottom Line: The “NFL GameDay Concussion Protocol” is designed to make the game safer for players but it has the potential to backfire and expose the players to greater head damage. Do you support the new rules? 

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