The league-wide epidemic that can end pro football

The league-wide epidemic that can end pro football

Throughout the history of the NFL, there has been a common concern that the league is still looking to find an answer to: Injuries. From past players facing significant CTE to current players experiencing tragic/season-ending injuries far too often, injuries could now be the growing epidemic that can end pro football.

This past Monday, January 2nd, 2023, viewers of the Bengals-Bills matchup were distraught to see Bills rookie safety Damar Hamlin collapse to the turf after making a routine tackle. Although Hamlin has been discharged from the hospital and is working towards a recovery, this was nothing like any NFL viewer has ever seen. Hamlin was given nine straight minutes of CPR on the field and quickly rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center after the procedure. These events led to a nearly hour-long delay which eventually resulted in a no contest. The initial postponement was widely credited as the right move with the apparent body language of the players showing that they weren’t in the right space to continue their game.

Although medical response was life-saving for the Bills, the same could not be said for an instance earlier in the 2022 season. Dolphins franchise quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered potentially permanent brain trauma that could’ve been avoided in full if the Dolphins medical/coaching staff put their player’s safety over the success of the team.

Being one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, Tua Tagovailoa has shown bright flashes throughout the season and has great potential to be a star of the future in the league, steadily improving throughout his 3-year career. But the Dolphins put his career and health on the line after rushing him back to the field after he was slammed to the ground in week 3 against the Buffalo Bills. A concussion was obvious, with Tagovailoa struggling to stay on his feet and stumbling across the field, but he was quickly checked and cleared for a concussion, returning very prematurely. Due to the Dolphins being scheduled to play on Thursday, Tagovailoa only had 4 days to recover, so when the team let him start there was an obvious question about his health. 

And just as some may have feared, Tagovailoa was sacked and thrown aggressively into the ground causing another concussion without even finishing one half of the game, but this time the severity was much worse. After the hit, FOX cameras had a shot of him on his back in a “fencing response”, which occurs when “a person suffers traumatic brain injury from a strong impact, such as a concussion, that causes the arms to flex into an unnatural position,” according to Considering the situation, there were two bright spots to be taken. the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who cleared Tagovailoa to check back into the game was quickly relieved of his duties, and critical updates were made to the concussion protocol, which now looks to take a player out of the game for a thorough check when there is any noticeable stumble or hit to the head. So far,  the new protocol has worked well. There has been a large number of players pulled from and ruled out of games because of the new protocol, which is good for the league in light of the horrible injuries that we’ve seen throughout this season and over the past few years.

What is surprising is how long it has taken for these changes to be implemented in previous seasons, there are plenty of cases of what concussions have unfortunately done to the careers of many players. The most recent example of a career-altering injury would be Antonio Brown, who was arguably one of the best wide receivers of the 2010s. Brown managed 7 1000-yard receiving seasons through this period, making his name a prominent figure in the football world. Brown maintained his success and was destined to become a Hall of Famer up until the 2016 playoffs after a cheap shot to the head by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict; his career has never been the same since. Kicked off 3 teams since then, Brown has gotten a lot of attention in every wrong way possible. Some people believe this was because of the repeated trauma his brain faced, potentially giving him a major case of CTE.

Although the NFL has improved its player safety, it took a potentially life-changing hit to do so. Players from the early days of the NFL have had major CTE proven by autopsies. Even though the new protocol is working well and there hasn’t been a substantial head injury since Tua Tagovailoa back in week 4, numerous players are still ruled out due to concussions weekly, and the short week from 4 to 7 days are definitely not helping. What can the NFL do to adapt to this? Will they have to sacrifice Thursday Night Football revenue for their players’ safety? Will they be forced to remove a large amount of contact from a contact-based sport? They may have no choice but to do this, with the future of their players in jeopardy if these numbers continue on an already upward trajectory.


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