Preseason brain injuries show the NFL still hasn’t learned

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Source: Daniel X. O’Neil / Flickr

The 2017 NFL season hasn’t even officially kicked off, but players are already suffering concussions in preseason training and games. The early brain injuries may foreshadow a tough season for the NFL and it’s handling of brain injuries.

The league has been under intense scrutiny of its handling of concussions since the release of a scientific study finding a permanent brain disease related to repeated concussions called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in over 99% of the former players examined in post-mortem autopsies.

Unfortunately, the NFL couldn’t even make it to the first preseason game of the year before the concussions started happening again. The first came last week during preseason training.

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi experienced a concussion during training last Monday, putting him on the sideline for more than a week so far. The injury removed one of the Dolphins most essential players, leading to a preseason loss that many are blaming on the concussion.

As expected, the preseason opening games also led to at least one documented concussion during the game. It took less than a quarter for Green Bay Packers cornerback Damarious Randall to suffer a direct hit to the head that led to his removal from the game.

Damarious Randall being removed with a concussion
Source: Adam Wesley/Green Bay Press-Gazette/USA TODAY Sports

Of course, some will say the concussions may not be reflective of the larger issue of concussions in football. After all, the players may be relatively out of shape which could make them prone to more mistakes and injuries. While this could be potentially true, most data suggests the rate of head injuries is stable throughout the season, if not increasing as the season progresses.

As for the league’s handling of these brain injuries – there is some good news and bad news. Both players have been removed from play until they can recover, as they should be under the concussion protocol of the NFL. However, it seems the players voluntarily removed themselves from play. Meanwhile, the league seemed to allow numerous questionable and dangerous plays go unpunished throughout the opening games of the season.

Despite the direct head contact from receiver Bryce Treggs that caused Damarious Randall’s concussion, there were no penalties or flags. Once the player was removed from the field, the game continued as if nothing wrong had occurred.

Then, later in the game, Malachi Dupre was struck head-on by Eagles safety Tre Sullivan that was so severe Dupre needed to be immediately taken to a hospital for evaluation. While there has been no confirmation of a concussion, a brain injury seems highly likely after a hit like that – a hit which is also prohibited by the NFL.

Again, despite a brazenly dangerous move from Sullivan, there was no flag on the play.

If the league won’t take the initiative to enforce its own rules, the concussions will continue to pile up throughout the NFL season. Years from now, athletes will be dealing with the repercussions of the brain injuries they suffer this year in the form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

If the league wants to truly be proactive on protecting its athlete’s brains, they have a lot of work to do before the official season starts in September.

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