In October 2010, the issue of concussions and brain injuries had caught the attention of the NFL as seen by the significant fines assessed against players who caused helmet-to-helmet contact during tackles. The fines were an initial attempt to draw black-and-white boundaries for players and league officials and to send a strong and new signal that helmet-to-helmet hits were now off limits. The NFL’s actions demonstrated concern about the long term consequences for players and for the future of the sport. For the remainder of the season, many players appeared unfazed by the new fines and improper hits continued throughout play-offs. But then again, change like this does not come overnight.
In 2011, whenever football practices and games resume, and in an effort to “walk-the-talk” against helmet-to-helmet hits, the NFL will heighten its fines to reach into the owners’ pockets. The new rule was designed to force a cascade of implementation requiring coaches to instruct players on safe and proper tackle techniques in this new era. Despite some objections by players and owners, the NFL has clearly entered a new and enlightened era on protecting the brains of its players and the future of football. Equally as important, the NFL’s change will have an immediate and longer term cascading effect on youth sports and the need to have greater awareness of risks and consequences when a youth athlete is suspected of having a concussion. This growing awareness will result in the prevention of preventable brain injuries in youth athletes.
As an attorney and advocate for those with traumatic brain injuries ranging from sports concussions to pedestrians struck in a crosswalk, I wholeheartedly agree with the NFL’s stand to make sports safer and protect players. In 2009, I was fortunate to lead a coalition of local community partners dedicated to making sports safer for youth athletics. As the then-President of the Brain Injury Association of Washington, we joined with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harborview Medical Center, the Seattle Seahawks/Sounders FC, University of Washington, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, Washington State Youth Soccer Association, Washington State Athletic Trainers Association, and Cannfield & Associates Risk Managers, to help pass the first-in-the-nation youth sports and concussion. This law standardized the best medical and coaching practices by requiring the removal from the practice or competition following suspicion of a concussion or head injury until the youth athlete was cleared in writing by a licensed healthcare provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions. This law also educates students, parents and coaches to know and understand the signs and symptoms of concussion and “when in doubt, sit them out.”
To read more about the NFL’s new fines, click here to read the full New York Times article.