The topic of concussions within the world of football from youth leagues all the way to the NFL are not going away. The discussion of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been at the forefront of the issues the NFL has been tackling over the last several years. The disease, within the sport of football, is believed to be created by so many head shots over the course of football games which can create depression, dementia and memory loss.
In September of 2015, PBS documented that 91 NFL players were tested and they found out that 87 of those deceased NFL players had CTE. Currently, there is no timetable available to know when the disease of CTE began in any of their brains. Nobody knows for sure whether it started near the end of their playing careers in the NFL or if it started at a very young age playing youth football.
But while there is no timetable, former NFL player Adrian Robinson Jr. died at the age of 25 in May of 2015 due to suicide and tested positive for CTE. The biggest issue with CTE is the fact that there isn't any way for anyone to know if someone has the disease while they are alive at this point in time.
The unknown of when the disease begins has a lot of parents and guardians around the country who have kids playing football debating whether or not it is safe for them to keep playing football. But the age of 25 given by Robinson's tragic case, it is a little bit of an indicator that the disease can occur at a young age.
NFL handled concussion protocols correctly in one game and wrong in another game
The NFL is not only aware of the severity of concussions, players around the league are certainly aware as well. In recent weeks, the NFL came under fire for the lack of efficiency in monitoring players during games as a couple of players looked like they were having concussion-like symptoms on the field most notably St. Louis Rams quarterback Case Keenum when he got hit late in the fourth quarterback against the Baltimore Ravens.
Keenum was not pulled out of the game instead he finished the drive as he fumbled which played a big role in the Rams loss to the Ravens. Part of the reason why Keenum was not pulled off of the field was because Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said he saw no signs of Keenum having a concussion from his point of view.
"Yesterday was a combination of unusual events that took place," Fisher noted in November the day after the game against the Ravens via Espn.com. "I saw Case go down, but I didn't see anything else take place. I didn't see him struggle to get up. I didn't see anything from my vantage point on the sideline as far as Case's slow recovery. The shot that you see where he got up slow that we've seen out there, I didn't see that. I was in the game management mode at that point, less than a minute left. That's where I was."
Fisher's response didn't help matters. The NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) president Eric Winston, who is also the right tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals, said that more should have been done to protect Keenum and that there is no legitimate explanation for the handling of the situation.
"Show me someone that says, 'No, the Rams did exactly the right thing." Winston noted to USA Today.com earlier this month."They didn't. Everybody knows they didn't. So, there has to be discipline then, right? Because when a player doesn't do something that he's supposed to do, he gets fined for that when it comes to health and safety."
As Winston said, there has to be some sort of punishment for what happened right? Well, no. The Rams won't be facing any punishment according to Espn.com but the NFLPA will be conducting their own investigation in the matter. The officials during the game are not getting punished, the ATC trainers who are independent certified athletic trainers in place to watch for injuries at every NFL game, are not getting punished either. There's an obvious disconnect from what the Rams saw and what everyone else saw which is something the NFL as a whole needs to be more on top of.
In a different situation, Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub got slammed to the ground late in the second quarter in week 13 against the Miami Dolphins. Schaub was holding his head while on the ground which raised some questions about his health.
But unlike the situation with Keenum, the Ravens did everything right.
"[Schaub] went into the in-game protocol and passed everything," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh noted via BaltimoreRavens.com. "[He] passed after the game and then passed again this morning. So, that was really good to see that [the concussion protocol] worked the way it's supposed to work."
It did go the way it was supposed to work and the NFL agreed.
League spokesman said today that Ravens medical staff handled Matt Schaub's concussion protocol situation properly yesterday.— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiecsun) December 7, 2015
So the NFL protocol for concussions went wrong in one game and went right in another game. The NFL needs to be hitting 100 percent right on this matter and they are not. It's a hard situation to cover in some ways because the player has to do right thing and take himself out the game. But it is also the job of the teams and the officials on the field to make the decision for the player and get him out of there.
Players are starting to be more aware and concerned
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn't taking any chances with head injuries. Roethlisberger is known as one of the toughest players in the NFL as he endured multiple injuries over the course of his 12 year career and played through them. But playing through head injuries is not something he is willing to take on.
"I have played through many injuries but the brain is not an injury you want to play with," Roethlisberger noted last via Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan as he was going under concussion protocols due to a head injury he suffered during the Steelers game against the Seattle Seahawks."I didn't feel right, it doesn't make you less of a man or a football player to come out of the game."
It's a good sign to see that NFL players are starting to be more aware and are starting to make better decisions when it comes to head injuries. But at the same time, there will be other situations where players won't make the right decision because a lot is on the line for them personally.
So even though it is very good to see Roethlisberger speak up on the issue, it is also easy for him to speak because he is a well-established NFL player who has made a lot of money in his career and will continue to make a lot of money as he is not only one of the highest paid players in the league, he is one of the best players in the league.
But what about the players who are not well paid? What about the journeymen NFL players who are fighting to stay on an NFL roster whether that is staying on the practice squad, whether that is fighting for a spot during mini camp, training camp or during NFL games? The decision to stay on the field or get off the field becomes much harder for them.
It's easy for NBA and MLB players to stay off of the court and the field respectively because their contracts are guaranteed. NFL players by and large do not have the luxury of sitting out. Because once they sit out, they run the risk of not getting their job back and contracts are not guaranteed.
Even going beyond NFL players, what about the players who didn't make it all the way up to the highest level and only made it through college while dealing with concussions? What about the players who didn't make it to the college level of football but are dealing with concussions due to the collisions in high school? What about the players who didn't even make it to the high school level but are dealing with concussions while playing in youth leagues?
So again, even though it is good to see players like Roethlisberger speak up, the bigger concerns are the players who don't have the platform to speak up due to financial reasons or having the right connections to be able to speak to a larger audience.
With the movie, "Concussion" which is a rated PG-13 film starring Will Smith (It will debut around the country for everyone on Christmas Day) which is based on the true story of head trauma in football, it will give an idea about how much the NFL knew about the impact of head trauma in football and how long they knew it for. The movie may not give 100 accurate representation about what the NFL knew in the past, but it will be seen by many as a movie that is in the ballpark of what the NFL knew.
"During the time we were playing, there were a lot of things we didn't know," noted former Indianapolis Colts player Chris Goode via Monday Morning Quarterback who recently watched the movie with members of MMQB. "Now a lot of the information is out there. So if you're playing the game, you know things. The information is out there, with or without this movie. What the movie might do is open the public's eyes to what is going on. The public has been lagging behind."
Does the NFLPA share any blame?
While the NFL is called on the carpet for what they may have known, the NFLPA themselves may have some explaining to do. Everyone knows from the very beginning that football is a dangerous sport. It's a sport that can end someones career or even possibly their own life on any given play. Players know that there are worst case scenarios.
So if you are the NFLPA, and you work with the NFL in terms of the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) to not only help look out for the best interest of the players, but for the league as well, how can the NFL have a good amount of information on head trauma, but the NFLPA over the years does not? How can the NFL be in, "The know" so much and the NFLPA is out of the loop for so many years? That doesn't seem realistic.
From the NFLPA's standpoint, the players may not know but the organization should be held responsible one way or another. Either the NFLPA knew what was going on about as much as the NFL did, or it is complete negligence on their part for not knowing the additional impacts of head trauma. An organization that is supposed to be looking out for the best interest of their players failed miserably in that regard.
Rule changes and the impact of helmets
The concern about concussions around the league has sparked rule changes in recent years where defenders can't lead their head to the quarterback or aim any intention to the quarterback's head including a head slap. Not even just a little bit.
Rule changes have also involved defensive players not being able to lead with their head against a, "defenseless receiver" which involves a running back, a tight end, a wide receiver or any other player in an eligible formation to catch the football on a passing play. But the problem with the rule is the fact that when a receiver lowers their head after the defender already lowered his head to avoid a head shot, the defender will be called for a personal foul penalty anyway.
There's no logic when it comes to those type of penalties. These days, when in doubt, throw a flag. At least that's the message it seems like the NFL is sending to officials. It has impacted the game in a negative way because penalties these days are often viewed as subjective calls because each official calls the game a little bit differently.
So what can be done? How about the NFL, college football, high school football and youth leagues all meet to make sure that the best equipment is available for all participating players? Helmets in particular are better than what they were 20, 30, and 40 years ago, but there is always room for improvement. The chatter of improved helmets hasn't really been discussed publicly all too often in recent years. It should be.
Will there be helmets that can take concussions out of the game? Not anytime soon in the near future. However, there are good helmets available.
What NFL.com, Time.com and USA Today said about helmets
In 2011, NFL.com released a study that said 38 percent of NFL players during the 2010 season played with Riddell's VSR-4 helmet which received a one star. The helmet is not viewed as reliable.
In 2014, Time.com discussed a study that compared Riddell's VSR-4 helmet to the Riddell's Revolution helmet and the study said that concussions were reduced by 54 percent when a player wore a Riddell Revolution helmet in comparison to the VSR-4 model. What does that say? It might mean that NFL players will have to get out of their comfort zone with certain helmets. Just because the Riddell VSR-4 helmet may feel good to wear now, it quite possibly won't help your brain feel good down the road.
That kind of drastic difference in the quality of helmets should help steer the league in the direction to make it mandatory in terms of getting rid of below average helmets. Hopefully it has more of an impact on all levels of football.
In June of 2014, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) discussed via USA Today.com that there would be standardized testing for concussions. As of right now, the NOCSAE is the closest organization to have a possible resolution on the issue even though there is still a lot of work to be done.
Concussions can happen to anyone whether they play football or not. Concussions can't discriminate against any human being. But now that more information is being brought to light, it is up to the league and the players themselves to do their due diligence more than ever.
Some will say, "These players signed up for football. They knew what they were getting into." Well yes and no. Players know that the sport can be brutal. What a lot of players didn't understand is how in depth head trauma can be going forward for the rest of their lives if they are suffering from any brain injuries.
In order for active players to protect themselves as well as former players in every single level of football from youth leagues to high school to college and the NFL, there should be help at all four levels to provide financial support for any participating player dealing with head injuries. It's only right.