Opinion: The NFL fumbles injury prevention

Cardiac arrest, concussions and head trauma: these aren’t the injuries that only happen after a car crash. These are injuries that can happen while playing football.

During this year’s NFL season, one of the scariest injuries happened to Damar Hamlin, a safety for the Buffalo Bills. As he got up from a hit, Hamlin immediately fell back down and went into cardiac arrest. It was an awkward hit that he received and there’s nothing the NFL could’ve done to prevent it, but the NFL should still have more safety precautions, such as increased padding.

But this isn’t the only instance of injury the NFL could have stepped in to mitigate. Tua Tagovailoa, a quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, suffered multiple concussions this year, yet he still was allowed to play this season.

His first concussion happened when he was playing the Bengals on Sept. 29, 2022. He was thrown to the ground and hit his head. He left the game immediately and was sent to the hospital. When playing against the Bills on Sept. 25, 2022, in a previous game, Tagovailoa had to leave during the first half after it was announced he had a head injury. But even after suffering that hit, he went back in the second half to play the rest of the game.

And even after these two head injuries, Tagovailoa experienced two more later this season. You would think the NFL would step in and say something regarding Tagovailoa’s safety, but they allowed him to play.

However, the NFL has tried to increase safety regarding head injuries. 

The helmet continues to evolve. The NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee continuously evaluates research on new technology, including in-helmet sensors and other methods of preventing, detecting and treating injuries,” the NFL stated in an article about player health and safety.

Additionally, “roughing the passer” is a penalty referees can call. If the quarterback is hit by another player after the ball is thrown then a 10-15 yard penalty is given. But what does a penalty help with when your best player just got severely injured and can’t play?  There needs to be a way the NFL can prevent a concussion because they can end players’ careers.

One example of this happening is when Al Toon, Jets wide receiver from 1985–1992, had to retire at the age of 29. The reason for his early retirement was that he had suffered nine concussions. Although the equipment back then wasn’t as good as it is today, Tagovailoa already has four concussions. If the NFL doesn’t improve how they handle concussions then Tagovailoa might not be able to play a full career.

Even more common than concussions are knee and foot injuries. Knee and foot injuries account for 36% of all injuries, according to the NFL. One notable player that suffered this kind of injury is Trey Lance. Lance is a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who is projected to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and is the projected 49ers starter. But in the second week of the 2022-23 season, he experienced a season-ending ankle injury after being tackled. Lance is yet to undergo surgery to repair injuries on his right ankle.

Hundreds of these kinds of injuries happen every year: in 2021, there were 129 total knee injuries among NFL players. In a single NFL season, lower extremity injuries, including ankle sprains and fractures account for up to 60% of total injuries.

The NFL should step in and prevent these kinds of injuries so that players can have a better chance of getting a full season in. They have said that there will be rule changes regarding illegal techniques and tackles. 

One player who is trying to prevent himself from being injured is Tony Pollard. Pollard wears a Q-collar around his neck in order to protect it from damage during intense moments in the game. The Q-Collar is a tiny, featherweight necklace-style device that gently presses against the internal jugular vein of the wearer. It helps the wearer by protecting the brain from head impacts. 

For the NFL to increase player safety, they would need to increase helmet padding, enforce ankle braces and add more protection around the knees. They should also consider the Q-Collar being required if it is proven to protect the wearer.

The NFL needs to take action or else more players will be forced to end their careers early.