Play Smart Play Safe: The NFL’s New Concussion Protocol


The 2016 NFL season is upon us and with Week 2 underway, we are already seeing some big names put on the Injury Reserve (IR) who will miss part or even the entire season.

With all of the musculoskeletal injuries that we’re seeing out on the field, there is a ‘silent’ injury that is plaguing many athletes past and present that people are just starting to talk about and putting at a priority.

The injury I’m talking about is concussions. Concussions have also been called a ‘brain bruise’ or a ‘mild traumatic brain injury’. Its cause is from forces directly or indirectly applied to the skull that result in the rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain. With these forces, the sudden change in cerebral velocity can bring on a variety of symptoms, which vary from person to person.

Not until recently have many organizations put a precedence to having a policy and procedure to evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and return to play for traumatic brain injuries.

Watching Thursday Night Football this week, I was really excited to hear the announcers talk about the new NFL Concussion protocol.

The Play Smart Play Safe initiative was announced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in which was put in place to drive progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of head injuries, enhance medical protocols and further improve the way the game is taught and played. In addition, a $100 million dollar fund was put together for independent medical research.

Other highlights of the new initiative include:

  • Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for each facility
  • If an athlete sustains a non emergency head or neck injury and is suspected to have a concussion, then they are immediately removed from the field and taken to the locker room for evaluation
  • Hiring a physician to serve as the leagues chief medical officer to work with each teams medical staff and establish an independent scientific advisory board
  • Having an unaffiliated neurotrama consultant assigned to each team
  • The Madden Rule-if the player is diagnosed with a concussion they may not return to the game and must be removed from the field
  • Adding an ATC ‘spotter’ at each game to look for potential head injuries with access to all views of the field
  • Independent biomechanic testing
  • Independent medical research on the diagnosis and treatment of head injuries
  • Sharing what the NFL learns across all levels of football
  • Sideline Concussion Exams

After watching last weeks season opener and seeing Cam Newton take several helmet to helmet hits, I find it more and more important to have a comprehensive and ever evolving protocol to protect not only NFL athlete’s but athletes everywhere.

For more information and to read more about the NFL’s Play Smart Play Safe Initiative, please visit:


Jessica M. Thomas MS, ATC




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