Injury prevention in the NFL: Part 2

Over the past several weeks, the National Football League (NFL) has once again faced increased scrutiny regarding its response to concussion-related health effects.  The league’s top official for the health and safety of players only recently formally acknowledged the link between playing football and degenerative brain disorders, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).  And last week, the New York Times raised more questions about the legitimacy of NFL-funded concussion research conducted by the league’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee in the 1990s and 2000s.  Here, we continue our discussion of occupational injuries sustained by NFL players.  Our previous post can be found on our website

Perhaps overshadowed by the publicity surrounding the aforementioned issues, last week the league approved several new rule changes for the upcoming 2016 season, many of which are intended to protect players from injury.  One noteworthy change will move touchbacks from the 20- to the 25-yard line.  This rule is intended to protect players by discouraging returns made during kickoffs, plays that have especially high injury rates.  Our recent study of the effects of the NFL’s 2011 amendments to the Free Kick rule, changes that were similarly aimed at reducing the incidence of injuries during kickoffs, demonstrated that almost all of the positive effects of the rule changes were attributable to a decrease in active gameplay rather than to safer gameplay (see abstract here).  We additionally showed that, though kickoff injury rates decreased, the types of injuries suffered, including those to the head, did not significantly change.  Our study highlights the need for detailed assessments of injury prevention interventions to understand exactly how they influence injuries and why. 

Furthermore, additional research into the mechanisms of and risk factors for sports injuries, particularly those that can lead to long-term disability, will be key to their prevention.  The need for the rapid collection and synthesis of such information has become critical to the viability of the game of football.  Our company’s collective expertise in program evaluation, risk assessment, study design, and data analysis can help organizations maximize the effectiveness of their injury prevention strategies, conduct high-quality research, and effectively disseminate findings.