During the Super Bowl each year, the NFL goes through a bit of a self-assessment process. The league is constantly studying trends and issues that spring up (how well they actually deal with said issues is a conversation for a different day).
Among the biggest issues in recent years is traumatic brain injury. The NFL has implemented rule changes designed to cut down on the number of concussions, attempting to eliminate helmet-to-helmet hits. So, how did they do in 2014?
“In light of all the other stuff that was happening off the field,” said NFL Executive V.P. of Football Operations Troy Vincent, “we really had some significant achievements on the field.”
The NFL released its annual Health and Safety Report, and according to their data, the rules changes are working.
“I must credit the players and coaches,” said Vincent, who also spent time as president of the NFL Players Association, giving him a unique ability to see both the league’s desires and the players concerns. “They adopted. They adjusted.”
Vincent took it upon himself to help expedite the process of changing the way players approached hitting, appealing to them on a personal level.
“I started the off-season visiting maybe, eight to 10 players, and we just talked about their style of play, eliminating the impermissible use of the helmet, and we saw players adjust. We saw coaches teaching a different style of technique, and we saw those numbers decline throughout the season.”
Here are the hard numbers, according to the NFL:
- Concussions in regular season games down 25% in 2014 vs. 2013
- Concussions in regular season games down 36% in 2014 vs. 2012
- In 2014, the concussion rate was .43 per game
- Concussions caused by helmet-to-helmet hits down 28% from 2013-2014
- Concussions caused by helmet-to-helmet hits down 43% from 2012-2014
In total, when counting the preseason, regular season, and practices, there were 202 reported concussions among NFL players (keep in mind, these are reported concussions). That’s down from a total of 229 in 2013 and 261 in 2012.
Interestingly, 41-percent (83) of those concussions occurred in the preseason and training camp, which only features four games as opposed to the 16-game regular season. One factor is younger players. Of those 83 preseason TBI incidents, 42 happened in practice as rookies adjust to the speed of the pro game and undrafted free agents fight to make a name for themselves and earn a roster spot.
Now, as players avoid going after the head, you’d naturally think they’d start going after the legs. However, the number of knee injuries also dipped a shade in 2014.
There were a total of 187 sprains of the ACL or MCL ligaments last season, down slightly from 193 in 2013.
Vincent noted the NFL is working closely with the NCAA and high school programs across the country through the Heads Up program to re-teach proper tackling technique at an early age. It would appear the effort is starting to yield results.