Why the NFL's New Concussion Policy Doesn't Go Far Enough

The league is finally doing something about concussions, but is it enough?

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The National Football League issued new guidelines on Wednesday on how it plans to handle head trauma in its players. (Catch up on the debate over the long-term effects of concussions on players here and here.) In previous guidelines, players with head injuries were allowed, and in some cases expected, to return to play after their symptoms had subsided. The new policy changes that:

Once removed for the duration of a practice or game, the player should not be considered for return-to-football activities until he is fully asymptomatic, both at rest and after exertion, has a normal neurological examination, normal neuropsychological testing, and has been cleared to return by both his team physician(s) and the independent neurological consultant.

It goes on to say that, "a critical element of managing concussions is candid reporting by players of their symptoms following an injury." The idea that players dissemble about their conditions (as Sports Illustrated's Ross Tucker analyzes here) has sports bloggers asking: if the league can't regulate its players' behaviors, how good can the policy be?
  • Still Have to Change Players' Attitudes, says Yahoo Sports's MJD. "I'm glad that independent doctors are involved, and I'm glad that a player will have to have a normal neurological exam before returning. The problem is, though, that if a player and/or a coach really wants to find a way around this, they'll always be able to...I don't think this is a problem, though, that can be solved with a policy. It's going to take a major change in attitude and culture among NFL players, and that's a way bigger task than drafting any new policy."
  • You Want Fewer Concussions? Get Safer Helmets, says CBS Sports's Pete Prisco. Nodding to the fact that players will play through their injuries, Prisco says the only way to stop it is to take away facemasks on helmets. "I think a lot of the concussions are the result of players trying to make that highlight-game hit. It has hurt tackling, but it also has made for more head injuries. Without a facemask, it wouldn't be as big a problem."
  • Good Start, Not Nearly Enough, says the Sporting Blog's Dan Shanoff in his morning round-up. "The NFL has made more progress on handling concussions in the last four months (perhaps last four weeks) than they have in the previous 40+ years of the Super Bowl era combined. That doesn't mean they have gone nearly far enough, but it's a start. Let's hope the NFL doesn't think that its latest policy change related to concussions is an ending."
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