The magnitude of athletes obtaining serious sports injuries in the NFL has been a topic of discussion for some time.

Concussions represent an unfortunate result of helmet-to-helmet hits that are all too common in professional football. In 2005, clinical and neuropathological studies performed by independent scientists found that NFL concussions cause cognitive problems such as depression and early-onset dementia. In response to these findings and media pressure, the NFL addressed the long-term effects of player concussions.

A league-wide Concussion Summit was held in June 2007, where the NFL heard testimony about the dangers of concussions and subsequently devised a concussion pamphlet to all players. The pamphlet stated, however, that “there is no magic number for how many concussions are too many.” Despite studies in 2008 that found that deceased NFL players showed signs of brain trauma from receiving numerous concussions throughout their NFL career, the NFL did not change their concussion policies.

It was not until 2010 that the NFL issued a warning to all players that concussions and conditions resulting from repeated brain injury can change their lives forever. While this was the first time the NFL admitted that concussions can lead to life-long injuries, more research has been done to learn about the long term effects of concussions.

Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, who was recently a distinguished lecturer for West Virginia University’s College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, presented “The Science & Technology of Sport Concussion: Translating Data Collection into Concussion Prevention and Management” to the community. Guskiewicz, a member of the NFL Concussion Committee, presented a five-step graduation process back to playing sports after an athlete sustains a concussion. This includes a rundown of visible physical symptoms by medical staff, a series of questions to check orientation, a concentration and balance test, and then finally returning to the playing field.

One study presented found that NCAA football players sustained an average of 950 head impacts per season. This data and more led to the NFL changing the player positions on kick offs, in hopes of reducing the amount of helmet-to-helmet tackles.

“We’ve reduced the magnitude of the collision so the physics has been altered and as a result, we’ve seen a 42% reduction in the number of concussions on kick offs this year,” Guskiewicz said.

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