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Why the NFL Is Ignoring Concussions

Concussions are everywhere, from the news to medical journals, to athletes everywhere being exposed to the dangers of the injury. In the last few weeks, a study that came from the NIH came out that focused on concussions and football. The study found that 110 out of 111 former NFL players showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The total study consisted of 202 former players. Out of that study, 177 players (87%) showed signs of CTE. Chances are that if you follow the sport, you have heard about this disease that is a result of repeated sub-concussive blows to the head. This means that even if a player shows no signs of concussion, they could be further injuring their brain. Some players who have had no history of concussions have shown signs of CTE. This indicates that this could happen to any player who received repeated sub-concussive blows to the head. The important information this study reveals is a possible link between playing football and being at high risk for CTE.

The NFL responded to the release of this study by ending its partnership with the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  This group specifically focuses on concussions and the medical repercussions of receiving a concussion.  The NFL originally pledged $30 million to help the NIH conduct studies to help understand what happens during and after a concussion and to hopefully find a way to prevent them. From the formation of the NIH in 2012 and the $30 million pledge, $16 million of that money went unspent. The relationship between the two groups has been on edge for a long time with the NFL refusing and blocking studies to be done by the NIH. However, even though the partnership has ended, the NFL did say the plan to complete the $30 million pledge. Along with this pledge, in 2016 the NFL said they would give an additional $100 million to support independent research on concussions. The NFL also spends $100 million on their own medical and neuroscience research.

So, $230 million dollars seems like a lot, right? Well to the NFL it may not be that much. The NFL brought in a total revenue of $7.24 billion, which is then split between their 32 teams. Each team got $226.4 million dollars apart of the split. This is a huge increase from last year’s 6 billion split. But that’s just the money the teams got. The NFL brought in as a whole $13.3 billion dollars last year. That left the NFL with $5.76 billion of which they only spent 4% on concussion research. Compared to the study’s findings of 99.1% of NFL players show signs of CTE.

Granted, there is a very small sample size of 111 players’ brains that were donated to help CTE research. It is very likely that the data is skewed slightly. But on average, every year 1800 players are on the NFL roster so even if those 110 players were the only ones who had CTE, that still is 6 percent of players who leave the game with a damaged brain. The  202 people that donated their brain to the study came from all different levels of play, from youth to professional and the data showed that the higher level you play, the higher your likelihood to have CTE.

So, what does the NFL lose when a player has to sit out due to a concussion? On average, a team can make from $6-$10 million for a sold-out home game. If a key player, like a quarterback, were to go down the week before a home game, that could significantly reduce a team’s chances of winning the game, thus reducing attendance of the game, pushing the figure closer to $6 million or less. However, seats and hot dogs are now what makes the NFL their money at the games. In addition, the TV deals and sponsorships are also a major source of income for the NFL. Despite a certain player’s ability to perform throughout the season, the deal has already been made. Since in the big picture, the NFL doesn’t lose much money due to player injury. Therefore it won’t shell out a lot of money to try and prevent them. In many cases,  new concussion prevention methods have come from college level football. Since a player’s health is much more vital to team’s success and profit, the schools are more inclined to try and prevent injuries. It’s a classic case of cost-benefit analysis gone awry.

Football is not the only sport where concussions are common, it is just the most talked about. Ice hockey comes in at #2 and women’s soccer is #3. Many players are changing their sport from football to a less violent sports to avoid major injuries. Most sports still have a danger of concussion but right now there isn’t much being done on prevention, just work on rehabbing the injury.

The amount of money in the NFL and all the other major sports industries in the US is staggering. But since the major sources of income aren’t entirely reliant on a players’ performance but of the likelihood of a person’s chances of watching the game, it doesn’t give a monetary incentive for the industry to try and prevent injury. Concussions have been in the news over the last few years and even a few movies have been made about the injury. The NFL increase spending due to the public outcry against the violence of the sport. The NFL is starting to realize that if they can’t find a way to prevent these injuries, they will lose their talent pool. As many younger players start playing sports, they will be less likely to play football and instead choose a sport that won’t leave them with an injury to the brain.


“Head Case - Complete Concussion Managements.” Stats on Concussions & Sports - Head Case - Complete Concussion Managements, Headcase,

Goldman, Tom. “Study: CTE Found In Nearly All Donated NFL Player Brains.” NPR, NPR, 25 July 2017,

Kevin Skiver Jul 28, 2017 . “NFL Ending Partnership with the National Institutes of Health on Concussion Study.”, CBS, 29 July 2017,

Belzer, Jason. “Thanks To Roger Goodell, NFL Revenues Projected To Surpass $13 Billion In 2016.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 29 Feb. 2016,\.

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