In the past, the NFL may have hidden from the issue of traumatic brain injuries in professional football. That isn’t the case any longer, according to one NFL team owner.
Speaking before the league’s owners meetings this week, New York Giants owner John Mara told reporters that concussions and CTE would be a major concern for committee members. Mara said “I don’t think anything comes close,” when it comes to the top priorities of the league.
Citing the nearly 32 percent increase in recorded concussions in the NFL during the 2015 season, Mara emphasized the need for research before comprehensive change could come to the league.
“There’s no secret that repeated concussions can have a very serious long-term effect [on players],” Mara said. “And I am startled to a certain extent by the rise in concussions this year because we were on a steady downward trend for the last three years, and all of a sudden they spiked up this year, and we’re still trying to understand why that is.
“We understand more than we did years ago, but we’re still not even close to having the knowledge that we need to have going forward. That’s why we’re spending millions of dollars in research and trying to understand more about this issue. That’s why we have the leading experts, we think, in the country on our health and safety committee. So we have a long way to go on that issue.”
Over the course of the 2015 season, the NFL recorded 271 diagnosed concussions – a significant increase from the 106 injuries recorded in 2014. Mara said that he and other members of the competition committee have reviewed footage from almost every concussion experienced by players during the season in order to highlight high-risk situations and find proactive changes to protect players.
One such change being discussed this year would be to move the touchback marker to the 25-yard line. Mara believes kickoffs are the most dangerous play in terms of potential for head injury, and the move could decrease the incentive to return kicks. The minor change could upset fans who look forward to remarkable kick returns, but could potentially limit the number of brain injuries experienced by players.
The NFL has been harshly criticized for its reaction to medical research linking concussions in sports to a neurodegenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, culminating in a recent Hollywood blockbuster focusing on the league’s handling of the “concussion crisis.” In recent months, however, the league appears to be turning over a new leaf.
“I don’t think we’re hiding from it,” Mara told reporters. “I know a lot of people have accused us of hiding from it in the past, but I certainly don’t think that’s the case anymore. … It’s something we have to keep pouring money into and keep studying because it’s not going away.
“You don’t want to put your players at a greater risk than you already understand they’re taking. You’ve got to do whatever you can to protect them. We need to understand why concussions are up because you hate to see it. It’s the No. 1 challenge going forward, and everything else we talk about this week is secondary to that.”