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The NFL’s Concussion Protocol

Concussions have been one of the biggest issues for athletes across the globe but specifically for the National Football League. Football is one of the most dangerous sports one can play when it comes to concussions. Every year a couple of million concussions occur in the United States because of sports-related activities. Of those, around 300,000 are related to football. The NFL has been attempting to limit the number of concussions. This has been done through many methods: upgrading equipment (specifically helmets), teaching new tackling techniques, and penalizing players who put other players at unnecessary risks. So far into the 2022 NFL season, the league has seen 65 concussions in their first seven weeks. To combat this problem the NFL has released new concussion protocols.

Despite the large number of concussions so far, the total number of concussions has been trending positively over the last few years. In 2015 the NFL saw a total of 275 concussions, the following year saw a drop to 243 concussions. Despite the progress, in 2017 the NFL saw a rise to 281 concussions. After that dramatic leap, the next three years showed great improvement and the amount of concussions continued to falter. 2018 saw the number drop to 214 then rise slightly in 2019 to 224. In 2020 the number of concussions dropped to 172 and in 2021 the number was at 187. This data shows great progress in lowering the number of concussions in the NFL. The staggeringly low number in 2020 can partly be attributed to there being no preseason games played, but there was still a marked improvement. If the NFL held its current pace at which concussions were occurring this season, then by the end of the year there would be roughly 158 concussions. However, it is important to note that the data shows that more concussions occur the later the season gets. 

Despite improvement in the number of concussions, the NFL still saw it necessary to change the league-wide protocol mid-season. This change was sparked by the injury to Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa. In a week three game against the Buffalo Bills, Tagovailoa took a hit and appeared to be shaken up. He was not able to walk without stumbling and had to leave the game. Many believed that Tua had suffered a concussion and would have to stay out for the rest of the game. Despite this, Tua returned later in the game and the Dolphins claimed that Tua did not even have a head injury. In the following week’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Tua was hit once again but this time he was unable to move. Tua had to be stretchered off the field and taken to a hospital where he was predictably diagnosed with a concussion. This scary event led to the NFL adjusting the current concussion protocol to ensure something like this could hopefully be prevented from happening again. 

The new NFL concussion protocol lays out more symptoms that would lead to a player being deemed ruled out for the rest of the game. Symptoms such as ataxia (loss of bodily movements), loss of consciousness, confusion, or amnesia are some of the symptoms that will now label a player as not eligible for a return to play. In the locker room, a player must complete an NFL SCAT and a neurological exam. If the player had not been labeled ineligible to return and passed the tests only then they would be allowed to return to the game. If the results of the test are deemed abnormal then the player must stay in the locker room and complete a periodic test along with a further neurological evaluation. These efforts by the NFL should hopefully lead to players being put in the safest environment possible and prevent injuries like the one Tua Tagovailoa suffered. 

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