Keeping Score

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AJ Neuharth-Keusch

A safer NFL? It may pan out to be that way as injuries continue to supress players’ careers.


When an athlete makes the decision to play tackle football, he’s making the decision to risk his health and safety for the sport.

It’s one of the most controversial topics in professional sports: is the NFL too dangerous?

Yes and no.

Yes: In every contact sport there’s a possibility of sustaining an injury, mild or severe.

Safety precautions such as helmets, pads, and penalties are developed to prevent the severe injuries. Unfortunately, the precautions can only help to an extent.

“Concussion Watch,” a program created by ESPN and FRONTLINE, compiled statistics from the official NFL injury report from the 2012-2013 season.

They found that there were 170 concussions recorded last season.

That’s 170 people that are at a higher risk for brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, 170 people that could end up with a higher chance of suicide or early death and 170 people that could have a shorter and altered life due to one play, one hit, one faulty helmet.

However, statistics that show all of the head injuries that occur in practice, preseason, training camp, and games are nonexistent

Injuries go unreported, are listed improperly, or have other contributing factors that cause skewed results.

No: One of the most interesting parts of the NFL is the big hits. They sell tickets.

However, when a player makes $20 million a year, such as New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, putting his body on the line for entertainment with a slight risk of negative long term effects might be worth it.

The odds of a player suffering a concussion are slim, but each time he steps on the field he’s taking a risk.

With around 1,600 players in the league, only around 10 percent of them received concussions last season, according to the statistics compiled by Concussion Watch.

The safety technology in the helmets and pads has evolved tremendously over the years, but still can’t completely prevent concussions and other serious injuries.

The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell have been dealing with the situation for years, but have recently taken extreme precautions.

Mid-season, Goodell told the media “We want players to enjoy long and prosperous careers and healthy lives off the field. So we focus relentlessly on player health and safety, while also keeping the game fun and unpredictable.”

In 2011, NFL owners voted to move kickoffs from the 30 to the 35 yard-line, resulting in more touchbacks and fewer kick-returns, which were proving to be one of the most dangerous plays in the NFL.

Early this month in his yearly State of the NFL address, Goodell said, “We are making the game better by also evolving to a health and safety culture. That is a big priority.”

The decision to penalize, suspend and fine players has caused much controversy in recent seasons, but is among the actions being taken by Goodell to decrease head injuries.

Although he claims head injuries to be one of his top priorities, how much is Goodell really doing to increase the safety of his players?

The main issue that he needs to address is the establishment of a system to properly list and report all head injuries that players suffer each year.

It’s a challenge to maintain viewership and fan base while eliminating some exciting parts of the game, but Goodell needs to focus more on the issue and less on his ego if he wants to continue being the commissioner of the most popular sport in America.