NFL issues a warning after 73% increase in preseason concussions
The NFL is sending a warning to teams about a type of preseason exercise the league believes contributed to a 73% increase in preseason concussions last year.
The league’s data shows that preseason concussions increased from 26 in 2016 to 45 last year. The majority of them occurred during 11-on-11 training drills during the first weeks of training camp.
While the league’s executive vice president of health and safety initiatives, Jeff Miller, has outright declared the full team drills off-limits, he urged teams to reconsider how frequently they occur.
In a statement Friday, Miller said he hopes the data included with the warning “will inform what clubs do” when they begin training camps this year.
In addition to the data and recommendations to reduce the use of full-team preseason drills, the league’s chief medical officer has spoken to staff from each team.
The league is hoping to have similar success reducing concussions as in 2015, when small rule changes are believed to have contributed to a 33% reduction in preseason concussions.
“We didn’t have a level and specificity of data then,” Miller said, “but we went through a process led by our football operations to inform teams and talk to them and say, ‘Hey, we noticed this data.’ We brought it to their attention, and there was an effort by many of them to address the question. And we saw a drop the following year.
“Raising the consciousness level of that issue was definitely worthwhile. I don’t want to take full credit for that decrease, but I think it informed what clubs did.”
“It’s not a matter of having five or six recidivistic clubs that we have to discipline into line,” Sills said. “This is a league-wide issue where everyone has to understand it’s on all of us to work on. It might sound trite to say, but any concussion we save is important to us. We want to put the awareness out there … and make sure we’re making it as safe as we can.”
One of the most common defenses of these types of drills is that they prepare players for the type of impacts they are likely to experience during games. It would seem the data backs this up, as the majority of concussions occurred early during training camps, but Sills and Miller believe this to not be the case.
“We don’t think about the brain as a hamstring, where you have to get it loose and flexible,” Sills said. “I don’t think we feel that. We think it’s exposure: What behavior are you doing and how much are you doing of it?”
Whether this gesture will have any significant effect on the rate of concussions in the NFL is yet-to-be-seen, but it is always encouraging to see the league be proactive to better protect their players’ health.