Chris Borland, a rookie linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers out of Wisconsin, retired in March 2015 after just one season in the NFL. Why did he retire with a promising career in front of him? It wasn’t a grab for money, like some in the media speculated. Borland was concerned about concussions and what they could mean to his future health.
In 2013-2014, more than 300 players were added to the official injury report because of a concussion.
Why is there such a concussion problem in the modern NFL? Part of the increase is likely attributed to a better awareness of concussions. Player awareness of their health is improving as well. Yet there are still reporting gaps in the public reports that are released compared to the actual injury counts. These NFL concussion statistics are why the league is looking at a complete overhaul of safety procedures.
- About 1 in 3 concussions that occurs in the NFL does not make it to a public injury report. Teams are not required to release concussion information after the final game of the season.
- There were 489 total concussions counted in the NFL in 2012-2013, but only 323 players were added to an injury report with the injury.
- 10 days. That’s how long it takes to recover from a concussion according to the American Academy of Neurology.
- 160 of the 323 players that were counted as having a concussion on an injury report did not miss the next game they were scheduled to play.
- The most games missed in a season from 2012-2013 data because of a concussion: 14.
- If games are missed, most players will only sit out 1 game.
- Week 12 in the NFL schedule is the most likely game where a player will suffer a concussion. There were 38 concussions tracked in this week in the 2012-2013 season.
It takes time to change a culture. The only problem is that the time it is taking to adjust to the health risks of concussions in the NFL is putting players at risk. This is why Chris Borland decided to call it a career. Other players are considering the same decision. Many NFL players have gone on the record to say they’re not letting their kids play gridiron football. As the game continues to change in strategy, the fundamental ways teams and officials react to a concussion could determine the future health of a player in just minutes.
What Positions Are At Risk for Concussions?
- 49. That’s the number of concussions that wide receivers received over the course of the 2012-2013 seasons.
- Cornerbacks also received a combined 49 total concussions over the same two seasons.
- These two positions are at the highest risk of concussion because of the 26% increase in passing that has happened in the NFL from 2004-2014.
- Safetys , Tight Ends , and Running Backs  are the next most common positions for concussions to occur.
- Outside of specialty positions, such as a long snapper, the safest position on the field is as a center  or a fullback .
- Since 2009, there has been an emphasis on recognizing concussions on the field, with emphasis on the quarterback position. They had 13 concussions reported over the 2012-2013 seasons.
- Fewer than 10% of all concussions result in a lack of consciousness, which makes them sometimes difficult to diagnose.
What the data is starting to show is that the cumulative impacts that happen throughout a season take a toll on the human body. Wide receivers and cornerbacks are active on every play, whether it is in a blocking scheme for a running play or a specific passing route that is being run. By the time Week 12 comes around, there have been 10-12 games played and all of those impacts begin to take a toll. Yet with a special emphasis on their position, quarterbacks have the lowest level of concussions of any offensive skill position. What could happen if that special emphasis were placed on all players instead of just the QB?
How Serious Is The Concussion Problem in the NFL?
- Brain trauma may affect up to 33% of the players that are currently playing on a regular basis.
- Professional football players develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at a rate that is 8x higher than the general population.
- Only 3 of the brains that were donated to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs from former NFL players did not have the degenerative brain disease CTE.
- 57.4% of NFL players who lose consciousness because of a concussion received were out fewer than 7 days.
- There were 0.38 documented concussions per NFL game in 2002-2007, which is 7.6% lower than the 0.42 concussions per game in 1996-2001.
- The most common signs of concussion in NFL players were problems with information processing and immediate recall, with frequent headaches and dizziness.
- About 28% of former NFL players will developed compensable injuries from their career after retirement according to terms agreed upon in a lawsuit brought by 5,000 former players.
- $5 million. That’s how much a former player diagnosed with Parkinson’s, CTE, or ALS will receive.
- Former NFL players in the 50-54 age demographic are 14x more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s when compared to the general population.
- More than 40% of NFL players suffer from a mental health issue, including depression.
- The impact speed of a football player tackling a stationary player: 25 mph.
- Concussion symptoms from a severe injury have been known to linger for 21 days or even longer.
When the NFL originally settled with former players on injuries and assistance, there was a pool of $675 million available. It soon became clear that this fund would be used up almost immediately because of the NFL concussions statistics that are being tracked. The NFL stepped up and agreed to an unlimited fund, but even this isn’t enough. More needs to be done to protect player safety. This could come from equipment changes, rule changes, of through education. Sports always has some risk to it. Even baseball players have developed CTE. Yet the clear dangers of repetitive hits simply cannot be ignored. Repetitive impacts put all football players at a clear risk of a lifetime disability.
Concussion Problems Start Before the NFL
- In high school football, there is a 75% chance of receiving at least one concussion over the course of 4 years of varsity play.
- A lineman playing college football receives an average of 1,000 sub-concussive blows to the head over the course of an average season.
- More than 60% of sub-concussive impacts occur during practice.
- 1 in 4 parents provide better safety measures for games than they do for practices.
- As many as 1 in 5 college football players will receive at least one concussion over the course of a season.
- There are an estimated 300,000 traumatic brain injuries that occur in the US every year in high school and collegiate sports. Sports-related TBIs are second only to automobile crashes as a leading cause of brain injuries in the 15-24 age demographic. This is problematic because the frontal lobe of the human brain continues to develop until the age of 25.
- Concussions make up 8.9% of all high school football injuries.
- 53% of high school athletes have sustained a concussion before participation in high school sports.
- 36% of collegiate athletes have a history of multiple concussions.
- Someone who has a first concussion has double the risk of receiving a second concussion. By the third concussion, a player is 9x more likely to receive a fourth concussion that a player receiving their first one.
- About 250,000 children every year are treated in emergency rooms for TBIs that are related to sports or recreational activities.
- There are 17 states that have not passed some form of Lystedt’s Law, which would require a licensed health care provider to examine and clear a student athlete for returning from a concussion.
- Men are more likely than women to not report having a concussion and request to be put back into the game they are playing.
If part of the concern in the NFL concussion statistics is that there is a cumulative effect that contributes to traumatic brain injuries, then it isn’t just the professional league that needs to make changes. There must be a systemic change that begins with the Pop Warner leagues and moves on up through high school and college. Some changes are all ready being made in youth football, such as a removal of high impact drills that could cause injury. More needs to be done, but any journey begins with the first step. Combined with NFL efforts, this is a pretty solid first step.