Concussions in NFL and Its Dangers


Watched by millions across the US, the National Football League (NFL) is not only the most popular game but also, its following is ever increasing with fans jamming stadiums every weekend to spectate the sport. The NFL sides play sixteen games in a period of seventeen weeks in 2 conferences with four divisions that contain 4 teams each. Additionally, winners from the divisions meet in playoffs to get the champion as the runners up group get trophies as well. However, the glaring reality of concussions where a decision by a player to use his helmet as a weapon may end in a fatality has led the NFL to seek prevention from such incidents. Further, the game is synonymous with brutal and severe injuries that happen every year and leads to concussion of players, thus, ending their careers and inflicting permanent impairment on them. Similarly, the article “In Response to” shows that many cases go unreported by players, and in incidents where they occur, some of those injured do not seek help (Sorani and Ferguson 345). This paper explores concussions in the NFL and analyzes the safety measures implemented to curb their devastating effects.

Literature Review

Until recently, NFL was not viewed as a dangerous game, but rather a favorite and popular sport among many people in America. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame by Boran, Seau was one of the greatest athletes and was envied by many. His untimely demise led to the world fumbling with many unanswered questions about the sport. Unknown to many, he had the worst injury in the case of recorded CTE (Boran para. 4). People could not fathom how the brain was so damaged and yet he maintained his composure without anyone noticing. However, during that time, injuries in American football were new and as such, no one took them seriously. Lately, concussions have become prevalent; if undetected and treated early, they can lead to the end of a career or death in extreme cases.

Dangerous Concussions

Many people wonder whether concussions are fatal and can afflict the life of a sports person. While most individuals are not aware of its dangers since they have not experienced it, some victims have suffered and still carry on their lives assuming to be okay. The devastating psychological and physical pain leads to suicide as in the case of Junior Seau who later took his life. In the article, “Causes of ports Concussions” Edwards and Bolde define it as a pathophysiological complex process that affects the brain and is induced by biochemical forces that are traumatic (128). In addition, although many scientists defer in its definitions, there is a concurrence on common symptoms and characteristics of trauma experienced by victims. Further, Edward and Bodle highlight that early signs occur immediately within specified minutes after the impact and they include motor and verbal unresponsiveness, and a vacant stare from the injured person.

Conversely, the signs might be overlooked especially when an athlete is playing with the fear of being substituted amidst the cheers from the fans. The second phase of symptoms such as sleep disturbance, severe and persistent headache, and hypersomnia resurfaces after weeks. These might be resolved between 7 to 14 years but in some incidents, they become a lifelong impairment. Consequently, to show how accidents and injuries incurred during the game lead to miseries and changes in the trajectory of an individual’s life, a 2016 incident illustrates it all. Clark writes on the life of Antonio Brown as one of the versatile players during the Pittsburg Steelers versus the Cincinnati Bengals game where he was hit by Vontaze Burfict and became unconscious; resulting in mood swings and awkward talking (Clark para. 3). While research is ongoing to understand all the effects, evidence shows that neurodegenerative changes occur in retired athletes’ brains, thus, expounding the emphasis on concussion as a public health challenge.

Among other challenges facing NFL are the cases that go unreported by victims. For instance, studies carried out in the 2013/2014 season found that cases of injuries were not reported. During the period, seventeen percent of cases of concussion occurred where 71% of the affected players reported their fatalities. In another research in the same year, it was revealed that 20 percent of the athletes had brain injuries but the majority of them (over 80 percent) did not report the incidents or seek medical help (Sorani and Ferguson 345). This shows that some athletes live with the injuries and do not take necessary measures in seeking treatment and reporting. Further, according to research done on traumatic brain injury resulting from tackles during the NFL, many scholars have shown interest in seeking to unravel the medical implications of football with regards to neurological wounds. Also, spinal cord injuries and concussion studies have become popular with scientists who want to study all dangers associated with this sport (McGinity et al. 1). Besides investigation into the link between repetitive brain injuries from American football and chronic concussion.

Position Paper

There are many Injury risks that are associated with the NFL and this forms the background for studies over the same. McGinity et al’s article on the impact of football on healthcare in the US asserts that research done indicates that the occurrence of all-cause trauma is very high. As such 8 incidents were recorded in one thousand games during high school football competitions. Also, in the college games, 36 injuries per 1000 matches were recorded while in the National League 65 cases occurred (McGinity et al. 10). Besides, for over ten years, orthopedic injuries have been increasing across the NFL and this has led to players spending most of their time nursing the injuries. Also, 5.7 percent of playing weeks were lost due to injuries (Sheth et al. 1). Furthermore, safety precautions had not been implemented in 2018 leading to more causalities. Similarly, while the prevalence of injuries has been reported and the league management has put in place safety measures, 40% of retired players recorded a long-term brain problem (Sheth et al. 1). There is a need for concerted efforts to avert such cases in the future.

Besides, a study carried out by Navarro, et al. on short-term losses on concussions by players 5894 NFL athletes were interviewed. It revealed that 307 who had concussions experienced instability and as a result, they were released by the teams as compared to those without any head injury (Navarro et al. 5). Further, they expound that the likelihood of such players remaining inactive in competition was negligible and as a result they incurred over 300,000 dollars losses per year. In addition, statistics showed that offensive players especially wide receivers, running back and quarterbacks were the most affected thereby showing declined performance after head injury as some retired (Navarro et al. 5). This shows that once an athlete becomes incapacitated, he loses his value to the league, thus, gets sidelined and retrenched from active roles.

Counter Claim

Although concussion has become a major concern among the sports fraternity, many people are not conversant with its prevalence in their countries. A recent study carried out to show the occurrence levels indicated that it happened yearly, accounting for seventy-five percent of traumatic head injuries (Topolovec-Vranic et al. 1). Further, sports concussion has been declared by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to have reached worrying epidemic levels thereby warranting further research. Also, despite its high incident levels, studies suggest that basic knowledge on head trauma symptoms and characteristics is low among various groups such as coaches and trainers, athletes, and the general public.

As such, an adequate understanding of basic signs is paramount as it assists in quick response which optimizes recovery while decreasing the inherent risk of permanent brain injury. The article “symptoms of mental illness resulting from concussion”, carried a survey in Canada among 6,937. People with 17 symptoms were listed and the participants were asked to pick the characteristics of concussion. Averagely, the respondents identified 82% of the 11 signs associated with head injuries while 98% picked headaches, 96.3 percent dizziness, 63% neck pain while 69 percent were associated with convulsion (Topolovec-Vranic et al. 4). The study shows that coaches have knowledge of concussion symptoms and this is essential as it can help them to identify an injury and assist the players at once. Besides, the Canadian respondents showed a high level of understanding and knowledge of concussion. However, the ability to identify an injury when it occurs leads to people asking how they can take part in helping the victims.

The Concussion Protocol

In trying to explain the procedures and ways in which management, coaches, and referees can assist in head injuries during matches, the NFL protocol has been unveiled and explained. Armstrong’s article “The NFL Protocol” explains that injuries were thought to be part of the game but as time went by, they started noticing problems that resulted in some of the players committing suicide due to trauma. Scientific research carried out linked concussions to neurological challenges and some athletes were diagnosed with CTE. After some time, the league created policies aimed at addressing head injuries pioneered by a committee meant to look after spine, head, and neck injuries in 2009 (Armstrong para. 2). However, as time progressed, various weaknesses were observed and as a result, a concussion protocol was established. So, how does it work to ensure that athletes are catered for during matches?

In every NFL game, there are officials called spotters who watch and scrutinize keenly the players on the field. Some are stationed at the booth above while most of them are at the sidelines in the field. When they see anything questionable and out of order with a player, they stop the game by calling time out. Some scouts escort the athlete out of the field to the emergency room to be evaluated (Armstrong para. 3). Besides, each team is mandated to have an expert in neurotrauma who monitors the unfolding game from the sidelines. Further, they assist in evaluating the players’ conditions as they can tell the loss of consciousness from the looks of a participant. If they see any of the signs, the game is stopped and the specific player is taken to the locker room or medical tent then to the hospital for elaborate evaluation as the protocol comes into effect (Armstrong para. 5). On the one hand, if a player is injured, rules dictate for the team to remove him from the pitch, on the other hand, if it fails, it is fined and loses draft picks.

The NFL Safety Measures

American football as commonly known as the NFL has instituted various changes that are geared toward the protection of its players during matches. Further, the league has invested in medical research to enable its athletes to have a good sporting environment during matches. However, NFL Football Operations highlights the safety changes that have been introduced. The notable rule that has concerns helmet-to-helmet outlaws or forbids players from lowering their headgear to initiate contact with the opponent (NFL Football Operations para. 4). The engineering and medical advisors of the NFL suggest that players are susceptible and likely to be injured when they lower their heads in alignment with the spine and neck to contact the helmet. As a result, the rule was accepted unanimously among leagues and players as the best vowed to leave the old ways of sporting that had led to the injury of many.

Another major safety concern it faced was kick-off practice that contributed to concussions among participants. Early research proved that head injuries were five times more likely to occur due to the practice. The NFL had been looking for ways of curbing the accidents that arise during the game. As a result, finding in 2018 showed a drop of injury incidents by 35%, thus providing a safer environment for players (NFL Football Operations para. 2). On the contrary, some view the changes as minimal compared to the lifetime injuries incurred by their kin. Such people wonder why other bodies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are not involved in the welfare of the football league (Finkel et al. 298). Therefore, this leads to many uncertainties in this game without proper and direct supervision.

On the one hand, players sign contracts as employees of the NFL, while on the other hand, government agencies are not monitoring the sporting events. This is because the league employs around 3000 workers who are well-paid and represented by a union in any matter (Finkel et al. 341). Further, the writers assert that the NFL industrial sector which consists of 32 organizations generates a lot of revenue. Expounding on this, the aforementioned writers assert that the combination of politics, inadequate experts, poorly resourced agencies, and a backlog of misplaced priorities, makes it hard for bodies like OSHA to implement regulations. In addition, bodies like NFL will remain in the current status without binding legal requirements for a long time (Finkel et al. 352). However, the league is working towards the provision of a conducive environment for all athletes. Unlike before when it neglected injured employees, NFL has become involved in the welfare of those with permanent injuries incurred during their participation.


The American football game has been practiced since the 1900s and as such, it is bound to continue being played across the US. What makes it unique is the tackle between athletes that encompasses full contact which leaves one on the ground. This leads to injuries some of which are lifetime and changes a person for the rest of his lifetime. Brain damage and heart problems have been linked to the game. While highlighting the same, Nael in Football Injuries asserts that there is a major concern about the prevalence of mental illness among young adults participating in the NFL and this should be the main reason for people to be concerned. Further, he expounds on how the active involvement of this group in the NFL exacerbates and triggers psychological concerns among parents, trainers, and physicians (Nael 349). Therefore, it is vital for all persons involved in this game to enhance their cognitive skills which will enable them to identify and refer players with conditions resulting from concussions.

Also, the understanding of an athlete’s mental health forms the background to which the provision of care is availed with a holistic approach. Further, experience from personal encounters and those of friends enables people to understand the importance of football to young people as well for the employment of others. As a result, there is a need for concerted efforts from families, schools, colleges, guardians, and parents to ensure that safety is emphasized at all levels by the league management. To safeguard the future generation, the aforementioned groups should educate the young people on the dangers and precautions to be undertaken when playing.

In conclusion, while it has remained the most-watched competition in American history for many decades, its fan base is ever on the increase. However, the realization of the dangers and risks the players face has brought a new dimension to the NFL. The malicious nature of some athletes who use their helmets to harm opponents has led to the maiming of many as a result of concussions. To prevent this, various management has implemented rules and protocols aimed at making the game safe. The provision of spotters and doctors during matches ensures that any incident is reported and action taken immediately.

Works Cited

Armstrong, J. “NFL Concussion Protocol Explained: How Does It Work?” Sportscasting | Pure Sports, 2019, Web.

Boren, Cindy. “Pro Football Hall of Fame explains why Junior Seau’s family cannot speak.” The Washington Post, 2015, Web.

Clark, Dave. “Pittsburgh Radio Host Dunlap: Vontaze Burfict Hit Changed Antonio Brown’s Life.”, 2020, Web.

Edwards, Jonathan C., and Jeffrey D. Bodle. “Causes and Consequences of Sports Concussion.” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, vol. 42, no. 2, 2014, pp. 128-132.

Finkel, Adam M., et al. The NFL as a Workplace: The Prospect of Applying Occupational Health and Safety Law to Protect NFL Workers. Arizona Law Review, Vol. 60, no. 291, 2018, pp. 293-367. Web.

McGinity, Michael J., et al. “Correction: The impact of tackle football injuries on the American healthcare system with a neurological focus.” PLOS ONE, vol. 13, no. 7, 2018, p. 1-10.

Neal, Timothy. “Mental Health Considerations in Football”. Football Injuries, edited by Kevin Farmer, Springer, 2021, pp. 349.

Navarro, Sergio M., et al. “Short-term Outcomes Following Concussion in the NFL: A Study of Player Longevity, Performance, and Financial Loss.” Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 5, no. 11, 2017, pp. 1-7.

NFL Football Operations. “Health & Safety Rules Changes.” NFL Football Operations | NFL Football Operations, Web.

Sheth, Suril B., et al. “Orthopaedic and brain injuries over last 10 seasons in the National Football League (NFL): number and effect on missed playing time.” BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, vol. 6, no. 1, 2020, pp. 1-8.

Sorani, Marco D., and Adam R. Ferguson. “In Response to.” Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, vol. 26, no. 4, 2016, pp. 345.

Topolovec-Vranic, Jane, et al. “Recognizing the Symptoms of Mental Illness following Concussions in the Sports Community: A Need for Improvement.” PLOS ONE, vol. 10, no. 11, 2015, pp. 1- 13.

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