In professional sports, there is always going to be a risk of injury. In contact sports, the injury risk increases. With many who cover the NFL classifying it as a “collision” sport… well, I think you get the idea.
The NFL had two high-profile injury situations in 2022 where in a prime time game, both times in Cincinnati, a frightening situation arose with a player on the field with medical personnel attending. The most recent one which became huge headlines outside of the sports world was when Damar Hamlin collapsed on Monday Night Football and had to be resuscitated on the field of play. Thankfully, Hamlin has recovered and made numerous appearances since the horrific scene.
The other situation which occurred at Paul Brown Stadium came in Week 4 on Thursday Night Football when Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was down on the field dealing with another concussion issue after one had arisen five days earlier in their previous game. Based on the Tagovailoa situation, the NFL implemented changes to their concussion protocol mid-season.
As technology increases and more and more information is gained, the seriousness of head injuries in sports, particularly the NFL, continues to come to the forefront. With the physicality of professional football, it’s an impossible task to keep concussions completely out of the game. At this point, the best the NFL can do is to continue to try to reduce them as much as possible while maintaining and adjusting the protocols to keep players dealing with concussions from being in a situation that could exacerbate their condition.
Concussions are such a different injury from others in the NFL. If a player is dealing with a high ankle sprain, the ultimate test for their safety is if they can perform the physical tasks of playing the game. With a concussion, a player can be physically able to do everything in order to play, but it’s their cognitive ability that has to be measured. Because of this, until recently many players played through concussions whether it be during a game or coming back from one and playing too soon. They could run and pass and catch and kick and do all things that their various positions could need in order to play football, therefore it was a much easier thing to “play through” then dealing with other injuries.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has said before, “The protocol is the protocol.” As a coach, the new protocols in the NFL are not something the players will be rushed through or the coaches should be asking for someone to get pushed through in order to play. This may have been the case 10, or possibly even five, years ago, but it’s not so easy in today’s NFL.
But is it still possible?
Obviously the Tagovailoa situation in the NFL added more to the concussion protocol so a player who is in more danger if he were to sustain another head injury would not be on the field of play. But when players are trying to get back on the field as fast as possible, and it would be beneficial to the team, some may always question if players are moved through at the proper rate.
There is really nothing to fix this problem, but there is something that would at least lower the burden on teams if the NFL were to implement a specific rule. Additionally, it would also help the appearance that the NFL is not going to rush players back from a concussion.
Here is my proposal:
When a player on the 53-man roster is in the concussion protocol and will miss the game, the team is allowed a practice squad elevation that does not count towards their standard practice squad elevations.
To clarify what I mean, I basically want the NFL to apply the rule they had set up in regards to practice squad elevations when players were on the Reserve/COVID-19 List and apply it to players in the concussion protocol.
During the 2021 season, if a team had a player who they did not replace on the 53-man roster that was on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, they could elevate an additional practice squad player which did not count towards the two they were allotted. Additionally, it did not count towards the number of elevations a player could have in a season. When a team elevated players from the practice squad, they had to designate whether or not they were a standard elevation or a COVID-19 elevation. Of course, if no players on the 53-man roster were on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, that designation could not be used.
If the NFL wanted to go the extra step to make sure players were not rushed back from concussions, allowing teams to have a concussion protocol elevation would go a long way. But why should concussions have a special designation?
The biggest reason is there is more uncertainty with player availability when it comes to the concussion protocol. Using the example of before of a high ankle sprain, the coaching staff and trainers would have a better idea if they think a player would be available or not as the week progresses based on their practice participation. When it comes to the concussion protocol, a player might appear to be fine and can do things physically in practice but not be able to pass separate concussion tests. In other words, a player could appear to be fine with everything they did all week but still not be cleared to come out of the protocol.
To give an example, let’s say the Steelers have two players who are injured and questionable for the game and another one questionable due to being in the concussion protocol when they finish their Friday practice for Sunday game. If none of these players have a positional replacement on the active roster who would go from inactive to active, the Steelers could be short at three different position groups, or very short at one or two if players play the same position. Under the current rules, the Steelers would probably have to consider a roster move by 4 PM Saturday to make sure they had all their bases covered for these three players. The two players who are injured are easier to judge. The player who participated in practice on Friday but didn’t clear the concussion protocol yet really leaves the Steelers in an unfortunate situation. Knowing that if the player did not clear the concussion protocol they could make the move 90 minutes before the game rather than the day before.
To me, the injury of a concussion goes into a different category because of visibility. Much like the players who tested positive for COVID-19, they may appear fine but were a risk to be on the field. The same thing could be said about some players when they have a concussion. Every concussion is different and some players may think they are fine when they are not.
There is so much that goes on behind closed doors in the NFL that fans are not privy to the information. Whether it be the Steelers or another franchise, I’m certain there has been pressure at some point by a coach to have a player come through the concussion protocol to make sure that they had the proper players available. If adding this rule would keep this from happening and knowing that teams had an easier fallback plan when a player may visibly appear to be ready, it’s only going to help with reducing the dangers of multiple concussions in the future.
So what do you think of the NFL adopting this rule? It’s not be something that reduces a player from getting a concussion in the first place, but it could possibly help keep them from returning too quickly. Is there any downside to it? Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below.