When heads collide

For generations, the game of football has been adored and celebrated across the country. Sundays have become unofficial holidays, and millions around the world tune in to watch every year. Despite the game’s rich history, a dark cloud has been floating above the National Football League. That dark cloud is the league’s handling of the treatment and management of concussions.

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was the victim of multiple helmet-to-helmet blows during the Panthers’ season opener against the Denver Broncos. If you were watching the second half, you would have seen the reigning MVP looking dazed and confused while his backup quarterback warming up, leading viewers wondering about the severity of the blows that Newton received. During that game, the rules were not properly followed.

During the third quarter, Broncos linebacker, Brandon Marshall’s hit on Newton should have been a 15 yard penalty. According to Rule 12, Section 2, Article 6(i) of the NFL rulebook, there is a strict rule prohibiting a defender from using his helmet to ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily. The rules also state that a quarterback in the pocket is considered a defenseless position. The Broncos got away with a penalty. Only one flag was thrown when Broncos safety Darian Steward hit Newton helmet-to-helmet. It is wrong that despite all the hits Newton received, he wasn’t put through a rigorous concussion protocol.

“During stoppage in play while on-field officials were in the process of administrating penalties, the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant and team physician requested video from the spotters and reviewed the play,” NFL spokesperson Brian McCarty said in a statement. “They concluded there were no indications of a concussion that would require further evaluation and the removal of the player from the game.

The NFL should be given some credit for improvements towards concussion management, such as more neurotrauma specialists on the sideline to determine if a player should be taken out of the game or not. Although it is a good start, the NFL has not done enough to protect its players from the effects of head trauma.          

Lee Igel, an associate in the medical ethics division at NYU Langone Medical Center told the New York Times, “In a way, the Cam Newton situation is the latest example to personify how tough it is for the NFL to figure this out going forward,” said Igel. “It’s medical interests versus business interests. Because there are enough different factors weighing in, it looks unsolvable.” 

The well-being of a fellow individual with a family should triumph over any other interests.

A link between repeated head injuries and a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) exists. Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University claimed that 96 percent of deceased NFL players that were examined had signs of CTE. What was even more disturbing is the fact it took until March for the NFL to acknowledge the link between CTE and repeated head injuries. 

It is hard to believe the league would not have endorsed this link if it was not for the overwhelming scientific research and the threat of lawsuits.

One can argue Newton’s size could have been a factor on why the NFL refused to pull him from the game. Panthers’ Head Coach, Ron Rivera said, “I can appreciate his situation. He’s a little different. He’s an imposing figure, and sometimes those big hits don’t look as bad on a big guy.’’ 

If it had been a less mobile, smaller quarterback like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, more flags would most likely been thrown.

The well-being of players should be more prioritized in the NFL. These players are the attraction that allows the NFL to be the billion dollar industry it is today. The NFL has already received a lot of negative attention, from players charged with domestic violence, to the unchecked authority of the commissioner Roger Goodell. 

More flags and more fines may be a solution to the growing concussion epidemic in the NFL. It may be an unpopular opinion for fans of the violent and fast paced game, but it could help extend the lives of the leagues most popular player.

This incident involving Cam Newton does not give the league a good image and continues to highlight an important issue confronting the future of football. With head injuries such as concussions rising by 31.6 percent during the 2015 season, the league will face a steep challenge in trying to make the violent game of football a little more safe.