By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – With all the Denver-Seattle story lines beaten to death and the Super Bowl still several days away, every possible NFL-related topic has been discussed at the event’s media days this week.
One such topic, inevitably, was that of concussions, which have plagued football for years.
With an emphasis this season on flagging and fining players for helmet-to-helmet contact, the NFL said players sustained 13 percent fewer concussions this season than they did in 2012, according to the Associated Press. The NFL also said the number of concussions from helmet-to-helmet hits is down 23 from two years ago.
Concussion protocol demands players not return to a game or practice after being diagnosed with a concussion, although some players still admit they lie during concussion tests to try to get back in the action. Announcer and former NFL player Cris Collinsworth noted that the insistence of doctors and coaches on keeping such injured players off the field marks a definite difference from what the approach would have been in years past.
During that wild card game that Collinsworth was calling, Keenan Lewis of the New Orleans Saints was petitioning passionately to return after sustaining a hard hit to the head, but he was not allowed.
“When I was playing football, he would be back in the game,” Collinsworth said. “The doctors now are taking a much stronger approach to this issue.”
Despite what appears to be progress, the league’s allegedly shady history of handling concussions continues to linger.
Thousands of former players sued the league over head trauma, and the sides agreed to a settlement of $765 million this summer. U.S. District Judge Anita Brody, however, rejected the settlement, worried it would not be enough.
Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees expressed similar sentiments, according to Sports Business Journal.
“I think that settlement number needs to be a lot more,” Brees said. “I think that there’s so many guys out there that need to qualify for disability and certainly need the help and the amount of money they’re talking about, $750 million sounds like a lot, but really is just a drop in the bucket for the amount of help that these guys need. Certainly, that number could be more.”
A few days earlier, Sports Illustrated published a harrowing tale of one former player, 10-year NFL veteran Dwight Harrison, who was declared “permanently and totally disabled” in 1993 but has since had his benefits revoked and his pension taken away to compensate for what the NFL declared were benefits he never should have received at all.
The league also came under tremendous scrutiny regarding concussions with the recent release of the book and documentary “League of Denial,” which details concussion research over the last two decades, including the discovery of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition that has been found in the brains of dozens of deceased football players, including Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, both of whom committed suicide.
Just this week, former Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best sued the NFL and helmet manufacturer Riddell for the head trauma he suffered in the league. Best, who had already sustained two concussions in college, suffered three more such hits in the NFL. In his lawsuit, Best says he never should have been drafted.
With the vastly increased spotlight on concussions in the NFL in the past five years or so, Best may not have much of a case. Many older players might have stronger ones, though, experts say.
The NFL may be making big progress in terms of limiting head trauma, but the topic of concussions and their detrimental effect on older generations of players – who did not earn anywhere near the millions today’s players do – will likely continue to cast a shadow on the league for years to come.