The NFL is launching new initiatives to improve the safety of players, as it tries to reduce the number of life-altering head injuries suffered in the sport.
It is encouraging that there is pro-active consideration of how to prevent health problems that players may carry for the rest of their lives. One hundred million dollars (approximately £770,000) has been spent on technological developments and medical research.
The developments come after the franchise’s continued scrutiny over measures taken to protect its participants, and a $1 billion brain injury compensation settlement with former players who have pursued legal action over the effects of head injuries.
The agreement provided up to $5 million compensation for each retired player suffering from the effects of repeated head trauma. It applies to all players who retired on or before 7th July 2014 and to family members of players who died before that date.
The rise in reported head injuries in sport is likely attributable to an increased knowledge of head injuries and particularly identifying concussions during game play. The NFL – like any sports body – has a duty of care to protect its players, ensuring that head injuries are identified and treated.
This duty of care to players includes taking measures to tackle the issue in a sport where head injuries are an inherent risk. The NFL’s $60 million investment in helmet improvement and $40 million neuroscience funding is a good start in working to minimise danger.
Of the research, in an open letter addressing the NFL’s ‘Play Smart. Play Safe’ measures, commissioner, Roger Goodell said: “What we see are materials and technology that we didn’t have before that disperse the forces in a way that can be very beneficial.
“And that’s what we want to do is try to get the experts, the engineering experts and scientific experts, to look and say: How do we take technologies that may be in the automobile business and use those technologies to design a better helmet?… We may even get to the point … where there are different [helmets for different] types of impacts at different positions. That’s something that needs to be evaluated by science and data and driven by data.”
For more information on the NFL’s concussion prevention research, see our previous blog: NFL invest $20m in Concussion Research to Protect Against Brain Injuries
Obvious parallels are frequently drawn to rugby.
In 2015, rugby saw a 59 per cent rise in reported concussions. Thirteen per cent of players experienced concussion, with concussions comprising an eighth of all sustained rugby injuries.
A BBC Panorama programme investigating the link between rugby and brain injuries can be watched here.
Martin James is a senior personal injury solicitor and national head of serious personal injury at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.