N.F.L. Introduces New Rules to Back Its Concussion Protocol
N.F.L. teams will be subjected to fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars and possibly the loss of draft picks if they fail to take players out of games after sustaining a concussion, according to new rules announced on Monday by the league and the N.F.L. Players Association.
The N.F.L. has come under repeated criticism, from doctors and players, for acting slowly to address injuries from hits to the head. Some of those who have accused the league have claimed it has hid the dangers of head trauma and not done enough to protect the well-being of the players. The N.F.L. has agreed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to settle a class-action lawsuit, and has donated tens of millions of dollars to companies aiming to develop safer equipment.
Still, the league remains under an intense microscope, which is why it felt compelled to act after several players last season were hit in the head but not removed from the game, only to later have concussions diagnosed. After being lambasted for not doing enough to enforce its own rules, the league said in February that it would review its concussion protoco
The most egregious case came in November when St. Louis Rams quarterback Case Keenum was slammed to the ground after throwing the ball late in a game against the Baltimore Ravens. After his head hit the turf, Keenum could be seen putting both hands on his helmet. He then tried to get up but fell back down.
The Rams’ trainer ran onto the field to look at Keenum but returned to the sideline without removing him from the game. Only after the game did the Rams test Keenum to see if he had sustained a concussion, and it was confirmed that he had.
Teams previously were not fined for violating the league’s concussion protocol. Under the revised rules, the league and the union will each appoint a person to monitor games to ensure that players are tested for concussions when warranted.
Teams that are found to have skirted the rules can be fined up to $150,000 for a first violation, and a minimum of $100,000 for subsequent violations. If the commissioner determines that a team’s medical staff did not follow the concussion protocol for competitive reasons — for example, by keeping a concussed player in the game — the team could be forced to forfeit one or more draft picks.
Separately, the league and the union said that data on injuries would be reviewed annually to see if game rules needed to be changed to improve player safety. The two sides also established a committee to review the surface of playing fields to help prevent injuries. Players have consistently said they prefer playing on natural grass and have complained that fields made of synthetic material can be too hard.
An earlier version of this article misstated the amount an N.F.L. team can be fined for violating the concussion protocol. Teams will be fined a minimum of $100,000 for any violation after the first, not up to $100,000.