SBD/January 31, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Data Shows Year-Over-Year Decline In Concussions; Knee Injuries Also Down Slightly

Nearly half of the NFL's 228 concussions were caused by helmet-to-helmet hits
Concussions were down 13% in the NFL during the '13 regular season and preseason, according to data the NFL shared with the media Thursday. The NFL documented 228 concussions in '13, down from 261 in '12. There were 252 recorded in '11. NFL VP & Chief Security Officer Jeff Miller ascribed the decline to rules and culture changes, though he cautioned the sample size over three years remained small. The vast majority of concussions, 48.7%, were caused by helmet-to-helmet hits, followed by the playing surface (14.6%) and knees to the head (10.3%). The data also showed there has not been a spike in ACL and MCL injuries, but rather a slight decline. Injuries in Thursday night games were lower than for other games, the data showed. There has been a perception of greater incidences of injuries on Thursday nights, and Miller said the data undercut that. Asked if the decline in concussions could have come from players hiding the injury, Miller said the heavy doctor and video presence at NFL games now makes that less likely than in the past. Also, all NFL teams will use electronic medical records in '14, up from eight in the most recent season (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer).

STILL SORTING OUT THE FACTS: NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith said, "The real questions are: Are the differences statistically significant? The real question, I think, is what do you take away from those changes in numbers? And yes, there has been a decrease. Frankly, I would like to see what those numbers look like over a three- (or) four-year period to make a decision as opposed to a one-year period." Smith added that there was "a change this season to the injury management system for collecting the data" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/30). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said, “All of this is an encouraging report. Does it mean that the NFL wants to throw a party? Not so fast.” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser: “It’s a very small sampling. It is two years. You want to see over five or you want to see over 10" (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/30). The Sports Legacy Institute co-Founder Chris Nowinski said, "I commend the efforts that the NFL and NFL Players Association have made. However, I’m still certain that 90 to 95 percent of concussions are still not diagnosed, so in that sense the numbers are meaningless. If you can diagnose every symptomatic blow to the head, you wouldn’t have enough players on the field" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/31).

FINDING A GOOD BOOK: Authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru appeared on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" Thursday night to discuss their book "League of Denial," which deals with head trauma in the NFL. Fainaru-Wada said, "The point of the book was to lay out two decades' worth of denial by the league. When they were confronted with the suggestion that football was possibly causing brain damage, they would say, 'No, it's not really an issue, we don't have a problem with it.' They created their own committee to study this issue." Colbert noted the NFL "took action." Colbert: "They've changed the rules. They've created this fund with $765 million to take care of the players' health needs. Why are you saying they are just in denial?" Fainaru-Wada: "When you look at the way the league has dealt with this over time, there's certainly a move they've made over the last several years. But when the commissioner is asked still is there a connection between football and brain damage, he says the same thing he said four years ago when he got hammered before Congress, which is, 'We're just going to let the medical people decide that.' The medical people already decided that." Colbert asked, "Have you guys been attacked by the NFL?" Fainaru: "The NFL, from the very beginning, has not been cooperative with our research. They really just refused to be interviewed. ... Uncooperative, I would say. I think we're providing information that they probably don't want people to see" ("The Colbert Report," Comedy Central, 1/30).
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