On July 25, 2013, NFL Player’s Association in-house counsel Sean Sansiveri announced that the NFL would be implementing a new concussion protocol for the 2013 season. The news was shared during a meeting with a committee from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.1
There has been no shortage of reports about how the league has dealt with the issue of concussions in the sport, and many don’t regard the league in a positive light. The topic has long been a bone of contention between the league and the Player’s Association. However, the NFL has been more proactive in regard to concussion research and taking action to prevent head injuries in recent years. As concerns regarding the connection between concussions and long-term health issues continue to be raised, the league probably realized it couldn’t keep its head in the sand.
In September of 2012, the NFL donated $30 million to brain injury research by the National Institutes of Health.2 Then in March of 2013, the league announced a partnership with GE and Under Armour for additional research. The funding and pending studies are all positive steps – but the new protocol may be the biggest step forward when it comes to concussion evaluation and post-concussion treatment.
What does the new NFL concussion protocol include?
As reported on the Florida Today website, Sansiveri stated that “as a result of a year-long negotiation, the NFL has agreed to implement for the 2013 season, for the first time in its history, a comprehensive concussion evaluation and management protocol.” The protocol requires:
- An unaffiliated neurotrauma expert will be on the sideline of every game during the NFL season.
- Per Sansiveri, the neurotrauma specialist (a neurologist, neurosurgeon or ER physician who specializes in treating acute head injuries) will be responsible for looking for signs and symptoms of concussions and “the mechanism for injury “ or “big hit.”
- The specialist – not the team or team doctor – will be responsible for all sideline concussion assessments.
By using unaffiliated specialists to assess and determine whether a player should stay out of the game and receive treatment, teams and players have no say in the matter. This will take a lot of pressure off of athletes who are taught from a young age a “give it all you’ve got, don’t give up, keep playing even if it hurts” attitude.
Sansiveri hopes the protocol will have long-lasting affects. “I think having this protocol document is important for many reasons, not least of which is the NFL will now articulate for the team’s medical staff and the players and the broader medical community, the standards actually being applied to protect players from uncertain long-term risks associated with traumatic brain injury.”1
Will the NFL protocol affect youth sports programs?
In some regards, youth sports programs have taken a more proactive stance at preventing and managing traumatic brain injury in student athletes. The youth leagues face the same issue that the pros do, though. They often don’t want to make the decision to take themselves out of the game, because they don’t want to look weak. Hopefully the introduction of the NFL concussion protocol and more education about the long-term affects of TBI will result in fewer concussions and better concussion management programs for all levels of sports.
1.“Concussion crackdown: NFL taking head injuries more seriously this season,” July 26, 2013. Florida Today website, www.floridatoday.com. Available at http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20130726/SPORTS/307260029/Concussion-crackdown-NFL-taking-head-injuries-more-seriously-season. Accessed July 26, 2013.
2. Breslow J. “NFL Concussions: The 2012-13 Season In Review.” PBS.org website. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sports/concussion-watch/nfl-concussions-the-2012-13-season-in-review/. Accessed July 26, 2013.