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What changes do the NFL & NFLPA want to make to the league’s concussion protocol

The concussion problem is one that has plagued the NFL for a long time now and while there does seem to be a desire for change. Can it come soon enough?

What changes do the NFL & NFLPA want to make to the league’s concussion protocol
Miami HeraldGetty

While this has to be considered progress, the unfortunate truth is that the league had to witness a terrible situation in order to review the concussion protocol.

The NFL & NFLPA are negotiating changes to the concussion protocol

According to reports, there are still details to be hammered out where exact language is concerned, but the NFL and the NFL Players Association are said to be close to a change in the concussion protocol. The intended alteration would prohibit a player from re-entering a game if they had suffered a direct hit to the head and in turn stumbled after it. The move follows on from the recent ordeal suffered by Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa during a Week 3 game against the Bills. The Dolphins quarterback, would then suffer another brutal blow this past week against the Bengals, which subsequently led to a concussion. Needless to say, the league’s protocol came under immediate scrutiny.

As per reports, the main focus of the change to the protocol, will be on ataxia. The term “describes poor muscle control that causes clumsy voluntary movements. It may cause difficulty with walking and balance, hand coordination, speech and swallowing, and eye movements.” It only took a glance at video of Tagovailoa following his hit, to recognize all of the above symptoms. It is understood, that any display of such instability – assuming it’s not neurological -should automatically result, in the player not being allowed to return to the field. Curiously, in Tagovailoa’s case, doctors deemed it a back an injury and as such, he returned to the fray.

So how would the change to NFL’s concussion protocol work?

‘Keep it simple’ seems to be the approach here. What the two parties have proposed, is that if a player can in any way be seen to unstable following a direct hit to the head, that player can’t be allowed to continue - full stop. Such a rule, would undoubtedly have prevented Tagovailoa from facing up against the Bills once again. What’s key here, is the idea of ‘gross motor instability.’ It’s reasonable to assume that in a sport as rough as American Football, there are a whole host of reasons why a player could stumble following a hit. It is in that ambiguity, that the league and players association have found the main challenge in terms of arriving at an agreement. Ultimately, reports suggest that there is optimism on both sides that an agreement can be reached in the near future.

With that said, the NFLPA’s statement on Friday suggests that they aren’t about to sit and wait. “Our union has agreed to change the concussion protocols to protect players from returning to play in the case of any similar incident to what we saw on September 25,” the NFLPA statement read. “We would like these changes to go into effect before this weekend’s games to immediately protect the players and hope the NFL accepts the change before then as well.”

The NFL responds to the NFLPA but the standstill continues

Given the public pressure placed by the union, it wasn’t long before the NFL responded. “As we have discussed with the NFLPA, we agree that changes to the joint NFL-NFLPA protocols are necessary to further enhance player safety,” the league statement read. “We have already spoken to members of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee and the leadership of the Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultants and Independent Certified Athletic Trainers who serve as spotters to discuss these likely changes.”

For the purpose of context here, we should mention that the NFLPA previously took steps - within its right - to terminate the contract of the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who gave Tagovailoa the all-clear back on September 25th. The union also indicated that in its eyes there were “several mistakes” made by the doctor in question. The NFL has not commented since. For the moment, the only thing that remains clear is that there is a desire on both sides to see a change made, but how and when that will occur remains to be seen.


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