With the NFL season at its conclusion, the mainstream media has shifted its focus from the New York Giants to the New York Knicks; from Tim Tebow to Jeremy Lin.
Since the finale of last week’s Super Bowl, the headlines surrounding the NFL, for the most part, have been Ron Gronkowski’s terrible dance moves, the M.I.A. “finger malfunction,” Tom Brady’s sister and the future of Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.
NFL geeks like myself, however, have been galvanized by every single personnel move made by teams recently. New general manager here, new coordinator there. The off-season is just as pivotal as the post-season. Any move can make or break a team.
With the NFL combine, free agency and the draft quickly approaching, I’m as excited as any non-football fan during Super Bowl commercial breaks.
On a more daunting note, the controversial topic currently looming around the NFL is the pending litigations from former athletes who have come forth and filed lawsuits against the league’s policies towards former players. The list of 21 players who originally sued the NFL in December over “severe and permanent brain damage they say is linked to concussions suffered on the job” has quickly grown over the last couple months. That number is sure to grow.
As more research on the correlations between concussions and long-term chronic symptoms and neurological diseases emerges, it is difficult not to wonder what significant changes will take place in the NFL. The iconic “big hits” may become a memory of the past.
The league has already made efforts to implement new policies to decrease the amount of player collisions, including the new kickoff rule that we all witnessed this season and the increased penalties and fines handed out to players for illegal hits.
Still, former athletes are angered over the claim that the “NFL knowingly concealed data about the dangers of concussions.”
But as Dr. David Kruse, co-founder of UC Irvine’s Comprehensive Sports Concussion Center, explains, the study of concussions is a relatively new medical field.
“Research is still being done. We have yet to determine many details on what is happening at the nerve-cell level. We are still finding new assessment tools. We are seeing a higher prevalence of concussion research, research that includes finding the exact levels of impact that cause concussions and of head injuries and the usage of sensors in helmets to find correlations in concussion rates. The research has become extensive as a direct result of our wanting for a better understanding.”
Perhaps the most important effects spawning from the NFL’s litigation issues are the levels of acceptance and awareness trickling down the lower levels of sports.
Numerous states have recently passed legislation that prevent high school athletes from playing in a game after sustaining a concussion unless they have been cleared by a concussion expert. It is measures like this that motivate others to do the right thing.
“Three to four years ago if you ruled a player out [of the game] because of a concussion you would receive backlash from coaches and even parents,” Dr. Kruse explains. “Now, when a kid is diagnosed with a concussion, there is no question, no issues because of the increased level of education and awareness.”
Only time will tell us if the sport of American football will ever be the same. The hits that once incited so much excitement are now scrutinized. Until then, former players will prolong their attempt to protect current and future players and put pressure on the league to continue researching and changing their policy to support the players more.