The NFL can still do more to prevent concussions without taking away what makes the sport exciting, according to its medical director.
League representatives met with their Premier League counterparts on Wednesday to share thoughts on concussion and other areas of player health.
The NFL’s protocols are often considered among the strictest in the world, and since 2002 it has made more than 50 rule changes designed to eliminate potentially dangerous tactics and reduce the risk of injury.
However, chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sells says more can be done without changing the sport beyond recognition.
“There is always more work to be done,” he told the Palestinian News Agency. “One thing our commissioner (Roger Goodell) likes to say is that the game could be safer and more exciting. Same thing, I think so too.”
“I don’t think our work is done in concussions or any of those health and safety areas. We can continue to improve safety while maintaining the exciting elements of the game.”
“That will involve constant changes in the equipment, on the surface, in the way we study, train and rule the game, and I think that’s what makes this an exciting era in sports medicine, to see how we use all this data. And to generate medical driven decisions about how the game is played and taught” .
Dr. Sales highlighted the 2018 change to penalize teams if a player lowers his head to initiate contact with his helmet against an opponent.
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“This rule change is a direct result of a lot of the work we’ve done in preventing concussions and analyzing how they occur,” he explained.
“When we did this work, we didn’t just do it as medical staff, we did it in conjunction with different representatives of our coaches and players’ association, so I think it’s a collaborative effort.”
Dr. Sales is in London at the moment, and the NFL makes their regular visit to London in October. On Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars face the Miami Dolphins at Tottenham Hotspur, following last weekend’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Jets.
The link between head trauma in sports and long-term brain injury has been in the spotlight in the UK in recent years, with Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson as part of a group suing union authorities after his early diagnosis of dementia.
The 2019 FIELD study found that professional football players were three and a half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease than members of the general population of the same age.
In 2013, the NFL settled with former players suing him for head injuries, and more recent studies of the brains of deceased former players also found evidence of a higher rate of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative condition.
Dr. Sales is confident that the changes the NFL has brought about in recent years, in terms of prevention and accurate diagnosis, will create “positive benefits” for today’s players.
He declared: “In the past few decades, we’ve improved a lot in understanding how (concussion symptoms) can manifest themselves and players have improved a lot in identifying what symptoms they might have.”
“Both of these things mean we are faster at diagnosing and we are all more sophisticated with the return to the game, and I have to believe they will produce a very different set of outcomes for athletes in the future.”
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