The NFL and NFL Players Association are working together to enact new policies that will make brain injury management be taken more seriously in the league. This week, the groups jointly announced that they have agreed to a new set of enforcement procedures which enact significant penalties for teams or players that violate the league’s concussion policy.
Under the new policies, any team determined to have violated the concussion protocol can face fines or be stripped of draft choices in future seasons.
The agreement is part of numerous changes coming to the league, following a season which included several controversial incidents where injured players were allowed to keep playing. Perhaps the most notable occurred when St. Louis Rams quarterback Case Keenum stayed on the field despite being obviously shaken and later admitting to having a concussion.
“The NFL and NFLPA, in conjunction with their medical advisory committees, implemented the NFL Game Day Concussion Protocol to address the diagnosis and management of concussions,” the league and union said in Monday’s joint written announcement. “The parties consistently review the Concussion Protocol to ensure that players are receiving care that reflects the most up to date medical consensus. The new policy sets forth disciplinary action against a club should a member of its medical staff or other employee fail to follow the Concussion Protocol.”
The new agreement also states that the league and union will both appoint representatives to monitor whether concussion procedures are being properly followed and investigate potential infractions. The investigations will not be designed to “reach medical conclusions,” but will specifically seek to evaluate whether concussion-related procedures were followed by teams and players. In cases where the league and union representatives disagree, a third-party arbitrator will be brought in to review the case.
Critics will be disappointed that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will be directly in charge of discipline for any violations, which some may see as a conflict of interest. Potential sanctions listed in the agreement include a maximum fine of $150,000 for a first violation, a minimum fine of $100,000 for any subsequent violations, and a minimum fine of $50,000 in cases where investigators agree a violation occurred but mitigating factors are present.
The agreement also includes the potential for higher fines and penalties such as loss of draft pick or picks if the commissioner determines that a team violated the concussion protocol for competitive reasons.
Since the league’s concussion protocol was enacted, there have been several flagrant cases where teams and players flouted the rules to stay on the field. So far, there has yet to be any significant penalty for violating the concussion protocol, but these new provisions will hopefully allow for the protocol to be properly enacted within the league.