1 Rasheed Brown 5794086 LABR 2P90 The NFL’s Take On Player Safety TA: Nathan Cecckin Word Count: 2871 Seminar 4 November 14, 2019 2 The nature of American football as a sport has not changed much over the years , American football has been played since the early 1900s and has always been a full contact sport that much has not changed. Due to the aggressive nature of the game and the sport being full-contact the sport and the league have not been short of injuries. Injuries are something that comes with the sport and the NFL have come to recognize that more throughout the years, which is why the league has increases the level of player safety. Of course that with any physical sport comes injuries but with the high levels of physical contact that occur in the game of football playing in the NFL comes with a higher risk of becoming injured. Scientific studies done on football players have shied a light on the dangers of the sport, dramatic brain injuries as well as heart problems and other eternal health issues have been found to be linked with playing football. The NFL is ultimately responsible for its players, to increase safety the league has taking action by acknowledging scientific study, changing game rules and revising the equipment worn by players. Of course many are not in favor of the changes made in the game on the behave of player safety. Diehard fans of the sport believe that football is meant to be played with high levels of contact and feel that players in the league are paid enough to endure the risk that come with the sport. The NFL has put the health of its players before the support of old timed fans. The league’s goal is to change the narrative associative with the sport of football, by making the game more safe to play the league will change the minds of people who see football as too dangerous, parents will be more encouraged to engage their children in the sport. The NFL as a leagues aims to promote higher levels of player safety , with the cooperation of players and teams as well as a greater recognition of scientific research the league has progressed to a more safer operation of play opposite to the attitude of the past. Without a doubt over the years the NFL has changed how they view player safety and it is apparent in their actions. One challenge the league faced in the past is how much attention they 3 gave towards research on player health and safety. As the game of football developed and began to capture the hearts of the American audience the main focus was around the play of the game and not the dangers associate with it. Research on player safety that was done in the past was not done correctly or taken into much consideration by the league and this put the health and safety of the players at jeopardy. “An unstated inference drawn from this conclusion was that prior studies were biased, unscientific , or too limited methodologically to be of empiric value” (Concussion in the National Football League, 2016)i. The previous quote was taken from a study that looked at past studies of concussion in the NFL , the author concluded that past studies were poorly managed and provided unsupported data. The study of concussion in the NFL of the past was limited due to lack of correct empirical data. There also was somewhat of a bias in the league on the effects the game had on the players, numerous amounts of people believed that the physical nature of the sport had no connection to serious brain injuries (Concussion in the National Football League, 2016)ii. Research on player health and safety is significant because it informs the league on where the most risks are in the play of the sport with the information provided by health studies the league can aim to combat these dangers and lessen player risk. An on-going challenge the NFL faces is to uphold a collaborative relationship with the scientific community, research and studies must be constantly done to increase the awareness of diseases that are associate with the sport. A major concern by the NFL is the long term effects that occur due to player concussions. It is evident that extended periods of head trauma has some correlation to the many dangers and tragic health issues that arise later in a player’s life (Players of American Football, 2017)iii. A general favor in the changes that are being made currently in the league is due to evidence that is found in retired athletes, retired football players have shown what are some of many negative 4 long term effects of play. One must recognize that these former players played in a time were the sport was extremely violent and operated with less regulations. “In a sample of 202 deceased players of American football....CTA was neuropathologically diagnosed in 177 players across all levels of play, including 110 of 111 former National Football league players” ( Players of American Football, 2017)iv. The previous quote proves to be evident because it was taken from a study on deceased football players, these players brains were donated to the study. The study found that the brains had a high proportion of neuropathological evident of CTE, which suggests that CTE has a high chance to be in relation to the participation in football. Another disease that is highly recognized by the NFL of today is Lou Gehrig’s disease. Lou Gehrig disease is a very intense and permanent disease, the disease puts your body in state were muscles and body organs begin to die and no longer function. The disease is irreversible and leaves patients in state of paralysis, as a player is exposed to consistent head trauma the brain begins to change in nature and leads to the development of this disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, 2007.)v Recent studies have been done to former NFL players who have gone through numerous concussions throughout their career and the study has found excessive correlations with the disease and head trauma. “From the database of 3,891 players, the prevalence rate was 206 cases per 100,000 compared with a prevalence rate in the United States of 5 per 100, 000 in the general population”( Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, 2007)vi. Study shows that the correlation between head trauma and Lou Gehrig disease is apparent and NFL players are at a higher risk of suffering from the disease when compared to the average American citizen. The core nature of football as a sport will never change, it will always involve contact that is somewhat out the control of the league. The NFL is responsible for the health and safety of its players because of this the league is expected to maintain a good cooperative relationship with the scientific 5 community, the NFL faces a challenge to implement rules that reflect the research findings of the scientific community on the behalf of its player’s health and safety. Throughout the years the NFL has implemented rules that aid the health and safety of its players. The NFL has significantly changed rules in regards to the hitting of a player, the league no longer permits players launching into one another, players are also not allowed to hit another player below the knees while that player is in the act of making a catch. In regards to the launching one’s self as way of tackling this method of tackling has been found to have a higher risk of injuries , concussions included. When a defensive player launches himself into another player he has less control of where exactly he is hitting the other player, this means that the offensive player could be hit at any part of his body. The possibility of being hit in any given part of your body is the reason why this way of tackling has an increased risk of injury. (NFL’s Concussion Culture, 2011)vii. The leagues has lessen the risk of injury by implement this new rule of tackling. In addition to the rule of not being able to launch oneself into another the NFL also implemented the rule where players are not allowed to tackle another player below the knees while in the act of catching the ball. Knee injuries are common in the league but can have drastic consequences. Players are known to tear their ACL or MCL and when they do they tend to be unable to play for close to a year, both injuries have to do with the ligament that are within one’s knee (NFL’s Concussion Culture, 2011).viii Similar to the other rule this rule is implemented to lessen injuries in players ,more specifically knee injuries. From a scientific perspective there is a certain way a players should be tackling one another. Professor Timothy Gay states that “The hit should be applied at the runners center of mass just below the rib cage in the center of the chest in order to direct all force into stopping his forward motion” (Inside Physics of Hitting, 2009)ix. Generally NFL coaches have a specific 6 nature of coaching, rules may change but the way coaches teach their players to tackles is out of the control of the league. Coaches tend to teach their players to hit for the knees, hitting a player in the knees more likely stops their chances of continually running with the ball. When the leagues implements new rules they force coaches to adapt and change their teaching methods which leads to a safer style of play. A major challenge the league faces is to make changes in the game that aids players health but do not drastically change the operation of the game too much. A recent crucial change the league has made has to do with the rules that surround kickoffs. Previously the kickoff was taken from the 30 yard line but the league has changed that to the have kickoff take place on the 35 yard line, this leads to less amounts of returns. The league made changes to kickoffs because statistics show that high numbers of injuries occurred during kickoff. “This was all created by the competition committee a group of NFL coaches and executive who tweak the rules every year based on perceive trends and public relation needs” (NFL’s Concussion Culture, 2011)x. The previous quote portrays the fact that NFL lives up to the challenges of constant concerns that surround the play of the game, the leagues must take into consideration these newly brought up concerns and adapt. It is one thing for rules to be installed into the game but it is another thing to ensure such rules and regulations are upheld by teams as well as players. When player safety rules are not followed the league is responsible to discipline unwanted behaviour. If players are not disciplined accordingly the league sets a bad example, players may not follow rules because they are aware that they will be no consequences. When players break the rules their forms of punishment is in the form of fines and league suspension. Regulations and rules are implemented by the league to lessen injuries for its players. These new rules also set good principles to follow 7 for younger athletes who watch the NFL throughout the country. The NFL is progressing in various ways and continues to focus on the protection of its players. The relationship between the NFL and its players is significant to the operation of the game. The NFL aims to have a progressive relationship with its teams and players, through cooperation both sides can come to a common understanding and aim to make positive changes for the game of football. One could argue that the relationship between the league and its players were not always in good terms. In past the NFL Players Association and NFL would often come to disagree on concerning subjects. It is evident that the legal actions taken by NFL players of the past have made drastic impacts on the approach to reduce the risk of long term injuries on players. One could argue that without the legal pressure of the players various changes in the play of the game would not have occurred (Concussion and Contracts, 2017)xi. In todays present day both the NFL and the NFLPA work together to form joint agreements aimed to better the sport as a whole. Recently both groups formed two joint agreement, one focuses pain management and the other behavioural management. The Pain Management Committee is made up of medical experts appointed by both the league and players association. The committee will implement standards for club practices as well as policies surround pain management, the committee will also conduct research on pain management and medical therapies. (Safety &Wellness of NFL Players, 2019)xii. In addition to the newly formed pain management committee the NFL and the NFLPA also created the Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee. Similar to the pain committee the mental health and wellness committee aims to develop educational programs for coaches and players in regards to mental health and wellness. The committee will ultimately promote positive health practices and promote suicide prevention and awareness, in order to do this the committee must collaborate 8 with national as well as local mental health organizations this way there are more resources and broader spectrum of understanding (Safety &Wellness of NFL Players, 2019)xiii. Not only were the NFL and NFLPA able to work together successfully to develop these program both bodies ensured that the standards associated with these program will be upheld. Both groups formally mandated that each team have a Behaviour Health Team Clinician as well as a Pain Management Specialist , both position were put in place to ensure that elements associated with each program are continually upheld and followed within each team organization. Of course the league has the power to change rules of the game if they see fit but a challenge arises with how players feel about these changes and how well they can adapt to these changes. One recent change that can be looked at is the restriction of on-field practice time. The NFL restricted players to 2.5 hours of on field practice time a day. The league implemented this rule due to a study that found that two-a-days practice lead to heat exhaustion, fatigue and injuries (NFL players embrace ban on two-a day practices, 2011)xiv. Various players did not agree with the rule, they felt that the rule lessen their preparation for upcoming games. Majority of the league’s players supported the ban, they felt that the rule reduces fatigue and preserves energy. It is expected that when new rule are introduced some players may disagree with the rule , this is a challenge the league must face. It is the responsibility of the league to inform its players on the reasoning behind each new installed rule. With a more common understanding both parties can continue play the game of football with player health and safety in consideration. Many fans argue that the nature of football is fundamentally dangerous which is why new rules set in place are beginning to ruin the sport itself. A challenge the league faces is changing this set narrative of the sport. Die-hard fans who have grown accustomed to the big hits and 9 aggressive style of play are against the sport becoming less violent. The league is putting the most important people of the game first and that is the players. Player health and safety must be of high importance because without the players there would be no football. Constantly studies are done on the sport and its effects on the players, taking these results from research and implemented them in into the game is vital. With new rules and regulation the sport will take a more safer outlook, the league must continue to build a cooperate relationship with the NFLPA to ensure both bodies have a common understanding and standards are upheld. Based on these points there is no doubt that The NFL as a leagues aims to promote higher levels of player safety , with the cooperation of players and teams as well as a greater recognition of scientific research the league has progressed to a more safer operation of play opposite to the attitude of the past. “Concussion in the National Football League,” American Journal of Sports Medicine, http://search.ebscohost.com/proxy.library.brocku.ca ii “Concussion in the National Football League,” American Journal of Sports Medicine, http://search.ebscohost.com/proxy.library.brocku.ca iii “Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Tramatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football,” JAMA, http://doi.org/10.001/jama.2017.83344 iv “Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Tramatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football,” JAMA, http://doi.org/10.001/jama.2017.83344 i “Football Increases the Risk for Lou Gehrigs Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. “Perceptual & Motor Skills ,http://search.ebscohost. com/ vi “Football Increases the Risk for Lou Gehrigs Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. “Perceptual & Motor Skills ,http://search.ebscohost. com/ vii “The NFL’s Concussion Culture”. 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