Tuesday, NFL coaches, CEOs, and owners met to discuss new rules changes and added a pivotal new rule, allowing athletics trainers to call a medical timeout if a player appears disoriented. This power to call a timeout would be limited to an athletic training “spotter” who would communicate with the referee linesman. It was unanimously approved by all at the meeting.
Under the new rule, a spotter at the game would communicate with the side judge if it’s determined a player is showing obvious signs of disorientation or is unstable. Neither team would be charged for a timeout — and teams can replace the affected player only during this stoppage. The opposition also would be able to substitute a player to match up.
NFL competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay stated “It came a little bit from the health and safety committee just saying, ‘We’ve got these spotters (certified athletic trainers),'” McKay said. “‘They’ve got a really good vantage point. They’ve got technology in their booth. They’re communicating pretty well with our trainers and doctors, and we’ve got a pretty good rhythm going there.’ Why would we miss a play when a player should come out?”
Those in the sports medicine community are celebrating this safety measure as well as its recognition of ATs’ roles in concussion safety and management. I speak for the athletic training community when I say that this measure is long overdue. The battle to fight for concussion recognition and safety measures has been an issue with athletic trainers for several decades, at all levels and ages of sport participation. While only receiving media attention in recent years, sports medicine professionals have been gathering data for much longer, in order to understand what concussions are, how they should be treated, and what the long-term effects are. Thanks to media attention and the contributions of former football players, this attention has gained momentum. The NFL is currently involved in an initiative that contributes several million dollars to concussion research, as well as money to place athletic trainers in high risk high schools around the Unites States (often states with high risk for heat stroke in fall and summer seasons). Current and former players are speaking out about how concussions have affected their health negatively and often permanently; they also help raise awareness in youth sports safety. Brains are being donated for research. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association leads many programs and legislative bills to help protect athletes. Overall, education and awareness of what concussions are has increased in the general population over the past years thanks to all these efforts.
This new rule stems from a growing recognition that concussions happen all the time, and is based upon the presumption that athlete safety trumps “one more play”. As McKay stated, if there is an effective resource already in place, why shouldn’t it be used to protect a player’s quality of life rather than letting him continue to contribute his disoriented efforts in the next play? Michigan recently adopted this strategy after receiving hot criticism when their quarterback, Shane Morris was allowed to continue playing after staggering on the field after being hit. The NFL claims that the NFL rule was brought to the table in light of Patriots Julian Edelman appearing disoriented after being hit by Seattle Kam Chancellor in the Super Bowl. Despite being disoriented, Edelman continued to play, and even caught the game-winning touchdown.
While I may have given you a brief background as to the contributing factors leading up to this rule, I think this rule is important because it helps take a stand for player safety over competition, and arguably contributes to giving players better cognitive health through early recognition of concussions. It places a value on human life, and the quality of that life. It sets an example for youth and college football, and even other contact and collision sport safety.
Ultimately, whether you have educated yourself or not, concussion is a very real, and very serious issue. It can adversely affect a player’s quality of life immediately and long-term. When it comes down to the ethical grey-area, my question is why has it taken so long to take measures to protect something so essential as the human mind? A current hot topic is whether or not athletes should have the right to receive payment for notoriety and should they be paid to play. However in a country that prides itself on valuing human rights, why have we let our love of competition overshadow the athlete’s rights to safety?