Player safety in American football has been a major controversial subject over the years, with the main concern being concussions, a type of traumatic brain injury that have been purported to be one of the influences for player suicides and other symptoms after retirement including memory loss and depression. In 2007, the National Football League conducted a study consisting of more than 2,500 retired NFL players, which revealed that the players who have had at least three concussions during their playing careers would have tripled the risk of depression. Five years after the NFL's study, the Canadian Football League conducted a study with six CFL players, and later found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in three of the players. In 2012, a study revealed players have triple the risk of having neurodegenerative diseases than the general population.
While there have been efforts made to try to decrease the number of head injuries, according to Dr. Kevin M. Guskiewicz, there are about 300,000 sports related concussions every single year. Also, after sampling 4251 football players, of those who suffered from a concussions, 6.5% suffered another concussion during the same exact season. According to another study done by University of North Carolina showed that 31% of concussed athletes rushed immediately back onto the field after injury. This is showing that far too many times, players are being rushed back to the field too quickly. 
Concussions in the National Football League
The NFL has been cracking down on concussions, with the league being more strict on player sanctions after Roger Goodell took over as league commissioner. The new policy expands the symptoms experienced by players suffering from concussions. In 2007, the league prevented players who were knocked unconscious by a concussion from returning to a game or practice, a policy that applied to Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best in 2009. Various players have filed lawsuits against the league for the concussions, accusing the league of hiding information that linked head trauma to permanent brain damage, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia. Some teams have passed on various players in the NFL Draft due to their past concussion history. According to an Outside the Lines report, the HIT System was in question by the league, although University of North Carolina professor Kevin Guskiewicz said that the system is functionable in the league. However, former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver and current NBC Sports analyst Hines Ward stated that the use of the system would be "opening a Pandora's Box", and that the data recorded by the system could be used by team owners to give players lower salaries.
In November 2011, the Cleveland Clinic Center for Spine Health created an online study that was released by the Journal of Neurosurgery in which various football helmets were compared with each other via crash test dummies. It was later found that leather helmets provided similar results to modern helmets, and in some cases, the leather helmets proved to have superior protection against concussive blows. However, the leather helmets did not provide as much protection against skull fractures.
In April 2011, Ray Easterling, Jim McMahon and 5 other players filed a lawsuit against the league over its handling of concussions, and one year later, Easterling was found dead in his home by a gunshot wound. Two months prior, Bears safety Dave Duerson committed suicide, and his autopsy reviewed that he had suffered from brain damage.
In April 2012, a group of former Dallas Cowboys, consisting of Pro Football Hall of Fame players Randy White, Bob Lilly, and Rayfield Wright, joined other retired players in filing a lawsuit against the league, and accusing it of ignoring a link between concussions and brain injury. A month later, after the suicide of linebacker Junior Seau, concerns arose over the connection between player deaths and concussions. Neurosurgeon Julian Bailes has identified CTE in the autopsies of players Mike Webster, Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk, Andre Waters, and Chris Henry.
In June 2012, a group of lawyers of 2,138 players have planned to file one single lawsuit against the league. According to an Associated Press report, over 80 lawsuits have been consolidated by the league. As of mid-August 2012, the number of players involved increased to 3,402.
In August 2012, the league sued three dozen insurance companies in an attempt to force them to cover the costs of defending claims of not protecting players. However, Travelers ultimately sued the league on August 21 in a lawsuit called "Discover Property & Casualty Co. et al. vs. National Football League et al., New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 652933/2012." The company provided liability coverage for the league's merchandising arm (NFL Properties), and the insurer also pointed out that the abovementioned lawsuit has allegedly 14 counts against the league, while only two against NFL Properties.
After quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, and Alex Smith sustained concussions in Week 10 of the 2012 season, the NFLPA plans to have independent neurologists at games. On February 3, 2013, it was reported that the NFL and General Electric have partnered on a five-year $50 million project to develop technology that can predict brain injuries, show its severity and the rate of recovery, along with creating more protective material.
Concussions in college football
The NCAA, like the NFL, has been criticized for its handling of concussions, with numerous players having retired from football due to concussions, or have filed lawsuits against the association for failing to protect student-athletes from concussions. In 2011, former players Derek Owens and Alex Rucks filed lawsuits against the association for failing to cover the players' safety. Both Owens and Rucks claimed that they had suffered brain trauma which could have been prevented. In 2012, the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten Conference began work on preventing concussions, and appointed University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones to evaluate and review existing research and various diagnoses from past analyses. In 2009, an NCAA panel created and recommended a rule that prevents an athlete from returning to a game after he/she has sustained a concussion. The panel also had recommended for an athlete to be sidelined after any concussion-related injury until he/she has been cleared by a doctor.
"There's been less focus on college players who don't go on to play professional sports, but I think you'll see that getting more attention and go down to people who play it at every level. From time to time we have all had concerns of what we ask student-athletes to do and what the long-term health may be."—University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones
Concussions in other leagues
Canadian Football League
In the 2010 season for the Canadian Football League, there have been 50 reported concussions; 44.8 percent of players reported having a concussion or concussion-like symptoms, 16.9 percent had confirmed that they had a concussion, and 69.6 percent of all players who suffered from concussions that year suffered from more than one. However, the average of 0.59 concussions per game is lower than the 0.67 recorded by the NFL in 2010. The league eventually started a concussion-awareness program with the help of Football Canada, Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), the Canadian School Sport Federation, the Canadian Football League Players Association (CFLPA), the Canadian Football League Alumni Association (CFLAA), and the ThinkFirst program. The league eventually pointed out eight protocols:
- Team physicians and therapists are to use a SCAT2 (a medical protocol), to diagnose concussions and preventing athletes from playing until they have been cleared to play.
- All players are to be submitted to IMPACT, which is a form of cognitive testing, during training camp.
- All player concussion assessments in the CFL are to only be used by team physicians and therapists.
- All coaches and players will receive educational items to aid in recognizing signs of a concussion.
- Administrators are to report a change from the expectation that a player returns to the game to one that encourages players to be honest about symptoms.
- The formation of certification programs that teach coaches how to recognize the symptoms of concussions.
- The formation of training programs for coaches that emphasize that players should never use their helmets to tackle.
- A new rule in the amateur football rulebook was implemented that requires officials to report suspected concussed players to the coaching or medical staff during games.
In 2012, ThinkFirst founder and Toronto Western Hospital neurosurgeon Charles Tator led a study that was conducted by the University of Toronto, which examined the brains of 20 former players with a history of concussions, and compared them to 20 other players without a history of head injury. A separate group of 20 without football experience served as a control group. Also in 2012, the league and Tator announced a partnership to work in a study that would perform postmortem tests on former CFL players to look for signs of CTE.
Arena Football League
In the Arena Football League, despite the league's intense play, very few lawsuits have been filed for concussions. The most notable lawsuit against the league was a lawsuit filed by former Colorado Crush kicker Clay Rush in 2010, who claimed that he suffered from permanent brain damage due to repeated blows to the head during games. Like the NFL, the AFL prohibits players who suffered from concussions from practicing. In 2008, during the original league's final season, the "Shockometer" made its debut at two season-opening games (Dallas Desperados vs. Georgia Force/San Jose SaberCats vs. Chicago Rush) on 40 player helmets. The device is projected to sell for $30 if it is to become available on the market. The players that were given the device play positions that are suspectible to hard hits, such as wide receivers, defensive backs, running backs and linebackers. AFL Players Association regional director James Guidry stated that the red light doesn't mean that the player has a concussion, but as a warning for team examiners to inspect the player. Guidry also said that the device could be used to prevent players who don't want to show any signs of weakness after sustaining any concussion-like symptoms from continuing to play.
"What happens in a game is much different than what happens in lab situations. To be able to have a partner like the AFL that values this project as much as we do is fantastic. We can learn an awful lot and make this product as good as it can be before it's winding up on the field in widespread use."—Dave Rossi of Schutt Sports on the Shockometer
Many efforts have been made to prevent concussions, such as a device created by Schutt Sports during the Arena Football League's 2008 season called the "Shockometer", which was triangle-shaped with an adhesive on a side that sticks to players' helmets. When a player gets hit by a g-force which exceeds 98, a capsule with a green light in it will change to a red light. Doctors have determined that a g-force of approximately 100 will increase the risk of a concussion, even though a quarterback that gets sacked would normally register a g-force of 150 g. However, a possible flaw to the Shockometer is that fan activity could accidentally trigger the device. Riddell created the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) and Sideline Response System (SRS) to help record the frequency and severity of player impacts during practices and games. On every HITS helmet features MX Encoders, which would automatically record every hit. Eight NFL teams had planned to use the system in the 2010 season, but the NFL Players Association ultimately blocked its use. While companies related to sports have taken action in combating concussions, the rest of the country has tried to do their part as well. The country has gotten Congress to make sure that there are public-service announcements on head injuries and their detrimental effects. Also, the NFL is now meeting with the brain injuries committee to see how they can find ways to keep players on the field, and concussions off. In 2013, Reebok developed the Head Impact Indicator, which is a quarter-sized device placed on a player's skull, which activates a red/yellow light if the player is hit too hard.
- National Football League controversies
- Steroid use in American football
- Health issues in American football
- Concussions in sport
- Helmet-to-helmet collision
- Bounty Bowl
- New Orleans Saints bounty scandal
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- National Football League official website
- NCAA Football official website
- Arena Football League official website
- Canadian Football League official website