The NFL Injury Epidemic According to the Numbers

rgiiiThe NFL is back and fans across the country are beyond excited for the 2013 season. Unfortunately the biggest story up until now has been all of the injuries. Many people think that there are far more injuries this season than usual, in particular season threatening knee injuries.

Some think that there are relatively the same amount of injuries this year as other but that it is simply more talked about due to the recent emerge of sports media on Twitter. This implication makes sense because news spreads in America now faster than ever due to social media.

I have also heard people say that there are not more injuries, there are just more injuries to big named athletes. Despite all of these claims not much has been backed up with evidence so that is what I am here to do.

Player safety has been a big deal in the NFL for quite some time now but most recently it has been heavily focused on concussions. The concussion problem is very serious in the NFL because they can have long term effects, and could ultimately ruin a life as a player gets older. There has been memory loss, brain damage, even apparent suicides from former NFL players that has been attributed to concussions. There are now thousands of lawsuits against the NFL from former players in regards to concussions.

The league has taken many steps to try and decrease the amount of concussions. The latest rule change is preventing players from leading with the crown of their helmets. In other words, you cannot look at the ground on your way to brace for a hit to or from another player. There have been many other rules made or altered in recent years as well in hopes of decreasing the amount of concussions.

I do not think that we should stop trying to protect the players, but I am not sure we are going about it the right way. One thought of mine was that maybe all of the ACL tears this year have been a result of players trying to avoid penalties and fines from hitting heads and they aim too low too often.

Shortly after I had this thought, the Miami Dolphins new tight end Dustin Keller was hit very awkwardly in the leg and we found out that he had torn his ACL, PCL, MCL, and a dislocated knee. The man who hit Keller was Houston Texans rookie defender Dayarlo Jamal Swearinger. Swearinger had this to say to the Palm Beach Post in regards to the injury,

“I was making a hit playing football, in this league you’ve got to go low. If you go high you’re going to get a fine. The rules say you can’t hit high so I went low and I’m sorry that happened. I would think you’d rather have more concussions than leg injuries. Leg injury, you can’t come back from that. A concussion, be back in a couple in a couple of weeks.”

This player being a rookie speaks volumes to how much society and the NFL have instilled into players heads that they NEED to hit lower. After hearing it from a player, I knew there was more to my assumption so I decided to find some numbers. I contacted Doctor Jesse David who has been conducting studies in the NFL in regards to injuries for Edgeworth Economics. Jesse was kind enough to provide me with a chart showing the number of serious (player out for over a week) and non-serious injuries over the previous nine seasons.

 

        Knee        Other         Total
<8 days 8+ days <8 days 8+ days <8 days 8+ days

2004

202

279

1,485

1,138

1,687

1,417

2005

192

269

1,500

1,144

1,692

1,413

2006

159

278

1,597

1,184

1,756

1,462

2007

193

339

1,550

1,281

1,743

1,620

2008

215

305

1,612

1,312

1,827

1,617

2009

213

290

1,654

1,095

1,867

1,385

2010

208

280

1,919

1,272

2,127

1,552

2011

420

321

3,113

1,380

3,533

1,701

2012

218

359

1,630

1,496

1,848

1,855

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, the chart began in 2004 which had 3,104 reported injuries that season. In 2011, while the NFL was deep into their attempt of protecting players, there were 5,234 injuries. Not one other year were there even 4,000 injuries so this jump seemed to have just been a bizarre occurrence but is still worth noting. In 2012 there were over 3,700 injuries which was the second highest. This shows that the steps the league has taken has not protected the players.

Now you may say that the point was not to reduce injury, but that it was to reduce concussions. Well to this I have more numbers, according to PBS these are the amounts of recorded head injuries and concussions in the NFL per season- 2009- 98, 2010-129, 2011- 143, 2012- 170.

So over the last four seasons, while the NFL has been cracking down on concussions, there have been even more head injuries than ever. With the newest rule this season of basically not being able to hit in heads at all I am hopeful that we will see a change.

Regardless of how much it changes however the question that needs to be raised is, why are we not protecting our player’s bodies? The career for an NFL athlete is not long and knocking a player’s knee out can end it even shorter than usual. In 2012 there were 170 reported concussions. In 2012 there were 577 reported knee injuries. We should not try to fix a small problem if it will just amplify a larger problem.

Approximately 19% of serious NFL injuries are knee injuries every season. Out of the nine recorded seasons last year was the first year when there were more serious injuries than minor.  We must continue to work on new ways of protecting our players. But we can not continue to drastically alter this game that America fell in love with. We loved it as it were, and if the changes are not even helping the athlete’s, just leave football alone.