Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Sep 2007

Confronting Concussions

On the heels of the John Kitna story this week, here's an article with an encouraging tale from the college ranks regarding concussions.

Arkansas's Darren McFadden might be the best player in college football. He was tearing up Alabama last week but was held out of a close game that Arkansas ended up losing due to a mild concussion. It would be nice to see this attitude spread to the pros, but somehow I doubt it will take hold.

Posted by: Russell Levine on 21 Sep 2007

14 comments, Last at 22 Sep 2007, 6:35am by Fergasun


by fyo (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 10:47am

This article is being grossly misrepresented in the extra points summary.

McFadden was only held out WHILE HE HAD SYMPTOMS. The coach clearly states that had the concussion occurred earlier in the game, he would have put McFadden back in.

I mean, later on, there's absolutely no symptoms," Weber said of McFadden's concussion. "This is a half-hour after the game. " Could he have played if it had been earlier in the game ? Yeah.

So, basically, the coach is getting credit for not letting his star running back play while pretty much unable to stand on his own two feet. While admirable, this is a (very) far cry from proper concussion policies as advocated by e.g. FootballOutsiders...

by kibbles (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 11:07am

FWIW, Ben Hamilton is probably out until after Denver's bye thanks to a concussion received in training camp. Obviously we don't know the exact details, but superficially at least it looks like at least one example of an NFL franchise taking concussions very seriously.

by Jonathan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 11:08am

Here's an interesting article:

A Helmet That Detects Hard Hits.

Riddell is equipping football helmets with technology to identify when a blow could cause a serious injury.

MIT's Technology Review

by dryheat (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 11:48am

Good to see Wayne Chrebet speak out. Other ex-players ought to join him in 3...2....

by Crushinator (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 12:29pm

I think it's in TMQ, but there's also a good argument against the NFL's concussion measures there and an anti-concussion helmet that the NFL doesn't use.

by Brian (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 12:40pm

The concussion issue has everything to do with the helmet. Just as a personal opinion, I believe helmets don't protect players from concussion nearly as much as they give a player a sense of invincibility and a battering ram to use as a weapon.

I don't have any stats to back this up, but I bet rugby players don't have neary the same kind of head and neck injuries football players do.

On Monday night I watched over and over how the Redskins secondary used their helmets to spear into ball carriers' arms and the ball "cradle" to try to cause fumbles. I kept thinking, God that must hurt.

I can still hear my HS coach yelling at me "put the helmet on the ball!"

Maybe reducing the helmet, rather than enhancing it would help reduce concussions.

by Goran (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 12:54pm

"The data is wirelessly transmitted to a computer, which requires a plug-in antenna and the user to be within 20 yards of the helmet."

How is this useful?

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 2:02pm

#5, Brian

Professional rugby in Europe has been plagued by injuries aver the last few years (and it is getting worse not better) as players get bigger, faster and stronger. Also they are allowed to wear some padding over their shoulders (but not the chest). The techniques for tackling have also been changing with greater emphasis placed on standing guys up as you hit them, and less on using proper technique which protects you as you wrap up. One of the more worrying aspects of the new hitting is the increase in neck injuries at contact (which used to only really occur at the scrum). The reason for all the changes, quite simply they work. You get more turnover ball and are better able to dominate at the breakdown if you use the modern methods, and now the game is professional results are all that matters. The downside is a rash of injuries which have curtailed the careers of some great players already and more will inevitably follow.

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 3:02pm

On helmets and concussions:

I said this in another thread, but "concussion" is actually a catch-all term for "brain injury that happens as a result of hitting your head" that includes a number of different traumatic brain injuries. Not all concussions are the same--depending on the specific loads applied to the head and the person's specific biology, you will end up with different neurobiological traumas, with different symptoms.

The primary mechanical insults that cause concussions in players, assuming no skull fracture occurs, are linear and rotational accelerations. Properly designed helmets can do a great deal to ameliorate the linear accelerations, and so can eliminate a lot of concussions. However, they do next to nothing to stop large rotational accelerations (unless they were somehow to be connected to the body), which means that other types of concussions (with longer lasting, harder to diagnose symptoms), as well as neck and spinal cord injuries, are not helped by helmets at all.

by Francisco (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 7:50pm

Could you expand on that a bit? What is a rotational acceleration, in terms of an injury you might see on the field?

by Jimmy (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 9:01pm


Rotational acceleration concerns hits where the head is twisted sideways relative to the body - ie a similar motion to if you look over your shoulder, just much faster. Boxing produces similar results, punches to the forehead or even the side of the head have a far less damaging effect than a punch that hits the chin and causes the head to twist.

So basically rotational accelaration is anything which causes the head to twist sharply around the neck. It is a good thing that head slaps by defensive linemen are banned.

by Subrata Sircar (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 10:13pm

Goran writes:
“The data is wirelessly transmitted to a computer, which requires a plug-in antenna and the user to be within 20 yards of the helmet.�
How is this useful?

Well, if the antenna were mounted on the same lines that hold the overhead moving camera, that might do it. (Also, I expect that pumping up the transmitter is current more expensive than they'd like i.e. they couldn't go to Radio Shack, but would have to order a wireless chipset from someone. Once you're talking about building helmets for sale, that expense gets passed straight on to the consumer.)

Once they've determined that they can actually capture meaningful data, and interpret it, getting it to the computer and the accompanying software package should be easy. The in-helmet sensor package seems like the important part.

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 09/21/2007 - 10:40pm

Rotation can also be "up and down" rotation--i.e. "pitch" (as opposed to yaw or roll). Think of the head being snapped back or forward...what causes whiplash in a car accident.

Severe rotations of the head in an impact can cause what is known as DAI, or diffuse axonal injury, which generally causes symptoms like memory loss, loss of balance or motor control, behaviorial issues, loss of concentration, etc. (disclaimer...I'm not a doctor, just an engineer who happens to be working on a problem that involves studying head injuries right now). Anyway, the brain injuries tend to be deeper in the brain, and harder to diagnose, than those that are caused by linear acceleration.

by Fergasun (not verified) :: Sat, 09/22/2007 - 6:35am

I haven't seen video of the Kitna hit (is it on YouTube). Two things I heard this week, 1) Zach Thomas might be held out of this weeks game due to suffering a concussion and having lingering effects.
2) Wayne Chrebet spoke out against Kitna coming back to the field.

I instantly thought of Chrebet because he was the first one that came to my mind thinking about players who were forced out of the game due to concussions. I still think QB-WR are hard to compare, especially since Chrebet suffered 9 concussions. He could be someone with a "soft head" and Kitna someone with a "hard head". Even with accelerometers there seem to be some variables introduced by players... (touched on by Caroll in PFP 2007), such as NFL having more players with "hard heads" which would self select through HS and college lack of concussions. And still each player would have their own threshold.

I don't understand why the NFL wouldn't mandate safer helmets... they are the other peoples parents league... for real.

MJK, are you also studying the healing of brain trauma?