Last week, the NFL provided an early Friday afternoon bad news dump via the news that concussions had spiked from 206 in 2014 to 271 in 2015. The co-chair of the league’s Head, Neck, and Spine Committee has a theory that doesn’t hinge on the notion that, as the numbers suggest, there were more concussions in 2015 than 2014.
“My belief is that this is not necessarily an increase in concussions suffered during games,” Dr. Richard Ellenbogen told Peter King of TheMMQB.com. “We’ll see in the coming years if that’s true. I think overall we have lowered the threshold for diagnosis. We are much more erring on the side of caution. I was waiting for the culture change to hit, and I sense it is hitting the game right now. . . . The medical timeout that has been instituted also is a factor, I think. Plus, this year I have sensed more teamwork between the team physician on the sideline and the UNC. Overall, I think this is all good.”
A 31.5 percent increase isn’t a cultural change; it’s a revolution. And it came during a year when, in late November, the league’s system for spotting concussions failed miserably during a game between the Rams and Ravens. So if the Case Keenum debacle in some way prompted a pendulum swing toward the reporting of concussions, there really wasn’t much time left in the season for the numbers to reflect that dynamic in a significant way.
Besides, attributing a spike that big to a cultural revolution would also represent a serious indictment of the pre-existing culture, at all levels.
As King notes, it’s too early to know whether this is a trend or an aberration. Here’s hoping that, in every year, honest diagnosis, reporting, and recording of all concussions occurs regardless of what it all means. With all due respect to the league, the simmering potential of high concussion numbers choking off the supply of future players injects just enough bias into the process to make some wonder whether, at some level, the numbers already are massaged or manipulated.