The NFL’s concussion epidemic continued in Week 2 as evident by the unusually high number of reported head injuries. Andre Johnson, Eddie Lacy and Brandon Meriweather were among the players that suffered a concussion. Thus far, it appears the NFL’s rule changes and preventative measures have not significantly reduced the rate of player concussions.
In the past few years, the NFL’s concussion epidemic has reached the public consciousness. In August 2013, the NFL made headlines for reaching a $765 million settlement with over 4,500 former players in a lawsuit regarding chronic health problems due to repetitive head trauma.
The serious long-term effects of concussions have been well documented. One study found that former NFL players have a four-times higher chance of being diagnosed with Alzheimer Disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (i.e. Lou Gehrig’s disease) in their lifetime than the general population.
The NFL has recently taken steps to improve the concussion diagnostic protocols and rehab requirements. The league has also publicly voiced a desire for team doctors to communicate more with game officials regarding players' health.
Recent rule changes also require players to be cleared by an independent neurologist and the team physician before being allowed to return to play. Since this rule has been enacted, players have missed significantly more playing time following a concussion diagnosis.
In the 2012 season, NFL players who suffered a concussion missed an average of 16 days before returning to practice, according to Edgeworth Economics' Dr. Jesse David. This is significantly higher than the average time players missed in 2009 (6.4 days).
Recent preventative measures have also been taken. This includes the league’s $10 million incentive program aimed at developing improved shock absorbent materials and other helmet technology.
Despite all of these recent changes, Week 2 showed that the concussions are as prevalent as ever. Four well-known players were reported to have suffered head injuries during Sunday’s games.
The Houston Texans were forced to beat the Titans in overtime without the services of their five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, Andre Johnson. Johnson was forced to leave the game in the fourth quarter after experiencing symptoms of a concussion. He was unavailable for postgame interviews, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
The Green Bay Packers’ starting running back Eddie Lacy was also sidelined with a concussion on Sunday. His symptoms began after being tackled by the Washington Redskins' Brandon Meriweather on his very first carry of the game, according to NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal.
Later in the same game, Brandon Meriweather was also injured after colliding helmet-to-helmet with Packers running back James Starks. Meriweather did not return to the game due to having a concussion, according to CBSSports.com's Ryan Wilson.
The final reported concussion of the day occurred in the night game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco rookie safety Eric Reid was injured in a collision with Seattle receiver Sidney Rice. Reid was reportedly escorted to the locker room after the play and evaluated for a concussion.
Strangely enough, the displays of head injuries during Sunday's telecasts were not limited to the games. A lighthearted Wizard of Oz parody commercial by Travel Wisconsin portrayed Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson knocking himself unconscious by running face-first into a tree. The commercial continued with Nelson hallucinating about being in the colorful Land of Oz and then awaking to realize it was just a dream (or a paranormal event).
There is no reason to believe Travel Wisconsin purposely portrayed Nelson suffering a concussion for any reason other than as a parody to the historic film. It was just odd and unlucky that it was aired during the Week 2 games littered with real-life head injuries.
These Sunday games are a reminder that football’s concussion epidemic is not over, or even slowing down. It is evident that the preventative measures, diagnostic protocols and medical interventions must continue to improve in order to assure the players’ safety. If this problem is not sufficiently addressed in the near future, the game of football (as we currently know it) may soon cease to exist.