Ellenbogen attributes concussion spike to culture change

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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.

7 responses to “Ellenbogen attributes concussion spike to culture change

  1. “We’ll see in the coming years if that’s true.”

    Maybe it’s true now and Ellenbogen doesn’t see it.

  2. He’s right. What used to be “aww, he just got his bell rung. Get back out there, son!”, is now considered a serious injury. Knee injuries are obvious because you can’t walk. Concussions are serious but no one thought it was bad because the player could still function and was operating on instinct: hit the runner, run fast, throw the ball, block that guy, etc. They didn’t know/care about years down the line and people are blowing their brains out.

  3. As the author Upton Sinclair once said:

    “It’s tough to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

  4. I tend to agree with what they are saying. You can’t look at this data at face value. The spike is probably somewhat due to an increase in concussions, but I would think a lot of it is due to the increased attention to them, the ways they are diagnosed, and so on. When there is more knowledge on how and what to diagnose as a concussion and more attention paid to them, the numbers are going to go up. I don’t think you can really analyze it until the variables are consistent for a few years so you get consistent data.

    Look at it this way. The price of gas has plummeted. You wouldn’t look at the total dollars spent on gas five years ago compared to the total dollars spent on gas now and say “people are buying less gas.”

  5. Could it be that more people are just being honest about having a concussion instead of blowing their base line and faking their way through? Maybe there were this many concussions last year and just less that were reported…

  6. It would be great if PFT would stop labeling this as “concussions were up” and instead noted more correctly that “the number of concussion REPORTED was up”. It is highly likely that nothing changed in the number of concussions suffered, but for obvious reasons more are now being detected. Obvious medical science is obvious.

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