The NFL’s Newest Rule Changes to Decrease Concussions
Prior to the 2018 National Football League (NFL) season, the league administration introduced two rules aimed at preventing concussions: Players are no longer allowed to “wedge” block — players running shoulder-to-shoulder into another player — during kick-offs, and they can’t lower their helmets when they tackle.
Fans and players complained about the “soft” stance the NFL took on the gritty play football was built on. Most notably, former Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews was subjected to a game costing “roughing the passer” penalty for tackling in a way that would have been allowed in years prior. The NFL reported that it would be using Matthews’ hit as a teaching tape.
Despite the backlash, offseason reports may suggest that these rules have influenced concussion rates. The NFL reported a 24% decline in the number of concussions between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, lowering the total from 281 in 2017 to 214 in 2018 when combined with preseason play. In the regular season alone, the number of reported concussions was 135 compared to 190 from the year prior.
However, it’s worth noting that 2017 saw high recorded rates of concussions. Figures going as far back as 2012 indicate that 2017 was one of the most concussed years in recent football history.
Still, NFL and medical officials point to 2018’s decrease in concussions as a positive sign that league initiatives are working. Officials say the new rules helped push the numbers down, and the use of more sideline concussion protocol testing and increased advanced helmet technology aided in this boost. The NFL reported that 74% of its players were now wearing its latest protective headgear, a 33% increase from 2017. According to USA Today, the NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, also indicated that medical teams across the league performed more sideline concussion tests than any year prior and saw a 75% decrease in diagnosing. The league is considering testing mouthguard technology that would give medical teams more information for diagnosing concussions.
As we prepare for another season of football, there’s no telling what 2019’s numbers will show about the NFL’s latest safety protocols, but if 2018 was any indication, they just might be headed in the right direction.