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NFL says that concussions went down in 2013 season

The National Football League says that the number of concussions suffered by its players has been going down the past two seasons. Whether this means that brain injuries are being phased out of professional football remains to be seen, but it could indicate that new rules banning head shots may be having an effect.

As we discussed in our previous blog post, brain injuries associated with football has become a major issue dogging the NFL. Seemingly every day, another former player for the Washington Redskins and other teams steps forward, saying that they are living with the long-term effects of repeated concussions and other blows to the head that they suffered on the field.

Thousands of ex-players sued the NFL, saying that the league covered up information that concussions can cause long-term brain damage like chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The players also say that they were rushed back into play before they fully recovered from concussions. Many ex-players deal with symptoms like dementia due to injuries from their playing days.

While the plaintiffs and the NFL continue to deal with the litigation, the league has tried to portray itself as taking the problem of brain injuries seriously. The rules now make it a penalty to hit players in the head when they are in a "defenseless position." Typically, this means a quarterback making a throw or a receiver catching a pass. A player who delivers a head shot to a defenseless opponent could also face a fine after the game.

These new rules could explain the reduction in reported concussions in the NFL over the last two years, at least partially. The league reports that there were 228 concussions during the 2013 season. That is 13 percent fewer than the 261 known concussions in 2012. The NFL reported 252 concussions in the 2011 season.

Whether this is a sustained trend, or a statistical fluke, remains to be seen.

The Washington Post, "Number of concussions down 13 percent this season, according to NFL injury data," Mark Maske, Jan. 30, 2014

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