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America's favorite game, the National Football League, has had some serious problems; most of its top professional players like Steve Young, Ted Johnson, Al Toon, Wayne Cherebet, Troy Aikman and Merril Hoge have had their carriers ended prematurely by head injuries. Most NFL players have had concussions which have continued to be a hot issue for the league not only for its players but also the whole NFL fraternity. This essay will discuss NFL concussions and reaction from players and coaches. 

Injuries and concussions in NFL

The National Football League has been associated with head injuries and the concussions have plagued athletes of the game for a long time now. Head injuries ranges from mild bumps and bruises to severe trauma with sports concussion being the most common and may appear to be mild although repeated concussions can result to serious long-term effects. In the NFL, the injury rate has been reported to be to be so high at 1.5 injuries per each athlete per game (Safran M., McKeag D. and Van Camp S. 1998).

There are many factors that influence the high rate of injury including players themselves and the playing surface. Wet and slippery grounds produce fewer injuries while relative risk is higher for running backs. For the athletes, tackling is the most dangerous maneuver which has a total of 32 percent injuries, it is followed by blocking with 29 percent injuries, ball carrying (19%) and being blocked with 10 percent.  Running, receiving and passing have a combined injury of 3 percent because they are relatively safe activities. Also statistics show that players are most likely to be injured during a game than during practice and that for teams that limit the number of contacts have fewer injuries (Safran M., McKeag D. and Van Camp S. 1998).


About 250,000 head injuries occur annually during football. Out of these injuries, 90 percent of these are concussions. The incidence of concussions in high school, college and varsity is approximately 20 percent. It has been found that 43 percent of concussions occur during a tackle, 23 percent when being tackled, 20 percent for blocking and 10 percent for being blocked. Most professional players have sustained a couple of injuries some resulting in permanent neurological impairment. The injuries can be prevented by a number of factors like using an advanced helmet with proper fitting, appropriate face mask and a mouth guard are crucial (Safran M., McKeag D. and Van Camp S. 1998).

Due to the high rate of injuries at NFL, a registry was established in 1976 to compile data concerning such injuries. Initial data showed that advance in helmet designs in the 1960s resulted to an increase in cervical spine injuries since players used the helmet as a weapon during blocking and tackling. The rules later were reverted prohibiting the use of the helmet's top to tackle by spearing an opponent and this has greatly reduced fractures and dislocation incidences from 30.6 to 10.66 per 100,000 for college level athletes (Safran M., McKeag D. and Van Camp S. 1998). In 1995 a 14 year old David Bosse died after a head injury while making a tackle. And just three months ago, Eric Hoggat died some hours after suffering a brain hemorrhage that was thought to have caused from a blow to the head in a September game. There are about 100,000 concussions a year from football and from NFL's own estimates, every two games played results in a concussion. At high school level, 20 percent of the players sustain head injuries during play (Nowinski C. 2006).   

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Just in October this year, due to the unusually high number of head injuries and brain-jarring tackles, the NFL targeted offensive players and Commissioner Roger Goodell proposed a fine of $175,000 in fines to some three players. He further threatened suspensions to those players and league officials termed the head hits as "devastating". This reaction waswas prompted after NFL top flight players like Joshua Cribbs, Todd Heap, Dunta Robinson, Mohamed Massaquoi and DeSean Jackson suffered mild to severe concussions. The NFL then made it clear that they will not continue tolerating any type of play whereby players continue to sustain injuries. The NFL has clearly changed its tune and its now against violent hits to the shoulder, neck and the head. The concussions have become so common place that some of the nation's leading sports experts are getting worried that the helmets are no longer adequately protecting athletes. Dr. Stephen Rice is a program director for the primary director Care Sports Medicine believes that many concussions go unreported because especially the players want to continue playing. They have also questioned whether the helmets are designed to reduce concussions or protect a players head.      

In an interview, retired Pro Bowl wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and retired defensive back Jason Sehorn are both of the opinion that fines won't change the way the game is played. This was a reaction to the recent NFL fines to three players for violent helmet-to-helmet hits. The NFL then pledged to be more vigilant about ejecting and even suspending players who make flagrant hits. The number of concussions this season has increased and according to the associated press by more than 20 percent from 2009 and more than 30 from 2008. NFL data shows that 154 concussions have been reported from the start of the season to the pre-season which is a 21 percent increase from 2009 through the eighth week (McKee R. 2010). Browns Ward who was fined $15,000 for an October 3rd hit said that fines will not change the way he plays

Dr. Hunt of Northwestern University has called the numbers a great sign. He admits that playing involves pain but the pain should never be brain pain.  NFL Packers coach, Mike McCarthy, echoes the same sentiments and adds that when a player has had a concussion he should not be allowed to go back and play as advised by the medical staff. Some coaches are worried that players who suffer concussions do not admit or report it and continue playing despite the injury. NFL and the union have enlightened players about the injuries and associated health problems and encouraged them to not only report their own symptoms but also that of fellow players. This they say is working, Oakland's miller says, "The bigger emphasis on it has helped... Guys aren't trying to hide it as much."  (Waszak D., Lage L., Booth T., Dubow J. and Jenkins C. 20110).

Out of the 160 players surveyed, thirty of them admitted to have hidden or played down concussion effects. Marcus Trufant of Seattle Seahawks who got a concussion has admitted that he has seen a change in which head injuries are handled. He says, ""If you're woozy or if they see any symptoms of concussion, you have to come out and go through all these tests before you can get back on the field." This shows a change of attitude among the players. Another player, Goodell agrees, "so that when a player gets an injury, they report the injury to our medical professionals so they can be evaluated..." and thus determine whether the player is fit to play or not from a medical point (Waszak D., Lage L., Booth T., Dubow J. and Jenkins C. 20110).

NFL has been plagued by an increase in head injuries in the recent past and this has put the industry players into a spin. The union has introduced stiff penalties and fines to curb the increase which has been met by different reactions. Some of the former players like Sehorn think that the fines will not rein the injuries as the game itself has been and will involve pain. This is contrasted by coaches who now feel that the head injuries will reduce significantly. Programs have been instituted to encourage players who have had concussions to report them and refrain from continuing playing despite the injury. This has worked as some players have come forth to report concussions they have had. Hopefully this will reduce the number of concussions and also reduce players who continue to play despite injuries.

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