The NFL should do more to protect players from concussions.
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Debate Rounds (4)
Full text of the resolution:
The National Football League should do more to protect players (or retroactively work to help and compensate them) from head injuries, particularly concussions.
No new arguments in the final round
BoP is shared
If TN05 has any issues with the resolution or definitions he wishes to add, he must contact me to change it before we begin. Once the debate starts all rules and definitions are accepted.
Round 1- Acceptance
Round 2- Constructives
Round 3- Rebuttals
Round 4- Conclusions
I accept! Best of luck to us both.
Thanks TN05, I look forward to a nice change of pace in this debate. Although the matter at hand is definitely important for player safety, this topic is a bit more laid back than most. Good luck Con!
Just a brief note: TBI=Traumatic Brain Injury
I propose a simple cost-benefit analysis framework for judging this debate. If, on balance, benefit exceeds cost, Pro wins. If the reverse is true, Con wins.
The world of football is facing a brain injury epdemic. This affects players from Pop Warner all the way to the professional level. The NFL is uniquely equipt to address this issue, and if done effectively, changes made will most likely trickle down and eventually permeate the college, high school, and youth game as well. My case will be set up simply: identification of the problem, the lack of response, what the NFL can do, and finally why the NFL should act.
III. The Problem
NFL players are suffering from TBIs. This should not be news to anyone. Concussions are brought up by every mom, every coach, every school, and every doctor when discussing football. However, the rate at which this is happening is startling. In a recent study, neurologists found that 40% of former NFL players have some sort of brain abnormality. One part of the study was a cognitive test, in which 45% of players had difficulty learning and retaining information. An MRI revealed that 43% of the players studied had damage to the white matter of the brain, which is responsible for connecting nerve cells of different regions. This is enough to qualify as TBI. 30% of the players showed damage to long arms that allow neurons to communicate with one another.  All told, research shows that NFL players have an incredibly high risk of brain injury. Though no causal relationship can be proven thus far, it is naive to dismiss the results of studies such as this. However, concussion results are more concrete. Big hits cause concussions. From 2014 to 2015, concussions increased by 58%.  So not only is this an issue, it is becoming more and more prevalent. The NFL has a TBI problem, and it's time to fix it.
IV. Lack of Response
There are some things the NFL should be doing already to protect its players. For all intents and purposes, these players are employees of the league, and should be treated fairly. The first way to do this is to enforce rules already on the books. In this season's opening game, star QB and last year's MVP Cam Newton suffered a series of big hits. Some were illegal, and went uncalled.  This is understandable. Game officials are humans, they'll miss things. However, helmet-to-helmet hits like this are some of the most important calls to make. It goes beyond the game. It's an issue of player health and safety. And it's not just the calls that are being missed. It's the signs of injury also. After the last big hit he took in the season opener, Newton was slow to get up. His coach didn't check on him, the refs didn't check on him, a trainer didn't check on him, no league representative checked up on him.  The league can't allow this to happen. When big hits seem to affect a player, some check needs to be made. If left up to the player, most will decide to carry on despite having a concussion. They are not in the right state of mind to make such a decision, and will most likely not think of the long-term effects of playing while concussed. Rather, they will focus on the short-term. The result of the next play. The result of the game. Whether they'll be sidelined for injury. These are all reasons players will leave themselves in the game and why we should make sure the NFL minimizes the chances of this happening.
V. Path of Action
There are multiple actions the NFL can take to attempt to mitigate this issue. The first and simplest is to take better care of players after they leave the league. As it stands, the NFL offers five years worth of health coverage following departure from the league.  Injuries, particularly TBIs, haunt players for life. They don't magically disappear after five years. In fact, they more than likely worsen, or may not even appear for some time after careers end. In stark contrast, the NBA has vowed to provide healthcare for players that spent 3+ years in the league for the rest of their lives.  The NFL could easily adopt a similar policy, but I will get into that more in my next point. There are other measures the NFL could take that would improve player safety on the field so that these injuries are less likely to even happen in the first place. A little under a year ago, the league looked into ways to improve player safety, offering grants for ideas that they liked. There were three frontrunners: a neck brace of sorts, redesigned helmets, and a change to playing surfaces. The neck-brace was described by Fortune:
"Army Research Laboratory created a material that stretches at low speeds, but freezes up if pulled quickly—in other words, a “rate-dependent” substance. It applied the substance to a strap that would attach from the lower bar of a helmet to a player’s chest to prevent the head from snapping back quickly after a hard hit. If the head jerks back quickly, the strap hardens and keeps the head up." 
The helmets are less complicated. Essentially, in place of the current cushioning on the inside of the helmet, different materials would be used. Multiple different materials would be layered to work more like an airbag than a glorified styrofoam cushion. This would reduce impact and better protect the player's head. Both of these changes to equipment could easily be mandated across the league and help reduce concussions and other BTIs. The final proposition, the change to fields, is an impact-reducing mat that would go beneath turf fields. It relies on the idea that just as many, if not more, injuries are caused by player to ground contact compared to player to player contact. This reduces the force of those impacts significantly, and since it goes beneath the turf, would not affect play.  The only issue that arises is that most franchises don't use turf. The NFL could easily mandate this however, and even if they didn't, players would fight for more widespread implementation and pressure programs into installing these mats. The NFL has entertained these ideas, but it's time to put them into action.
VI. Why the NFL?
The NFL should be the level of play to do this because it will trickle down from there. Most programs at lower levels make their best attempt to simulate NFL rules, play style, environments, etc. so this would be no different. The players are in need of protection, so the only questions are "How will it affect play?" and "Can the league afford it?" The only change that would affect play is the neck brace, and it would likely be minimal. As far as affordability, the NFL as a whole or individual teams could easily afford the changes, as the 32 NFL teams combine for a greater value than every NBA and MLB team.  If a lesser league can afford it, the NFL can too.
It is clear there is a probem that needs to be fixed. In the interest of player safety, the NFL must act.
I'd like to thank my opponent for his opening statement.
I can't dismiss the reality of head injuries in sports. As we learn more about the human body, we are able to learn more and more about how actions affect how our body functions. Without a doubt, the most important organ in our body - the brain - is something we need to protect. That being said, there are certain activities that carry risks - and there may not be ways to correct them.
I'm going to argue the National Football League, as a corporate entity, does not need to take any additional steps to protect players from concussions, or any additional steps to compensate former players for head injuries. This does not mean I oppose any actions in general or the current payments - for the purposes of my argument, I don't consider actions taken by individual teams to be a league action. In essence, my argument is this: the NFL doesn't need to take additional actions, irrespective of what individual teams or players do.
Contention 1 - Concussions as an epidemic unique to football are overstated
With all the media attention given to concussions, one might expect them to be a very common injury - but that couldn't be further from the truth. Concussions comprise only 5% of all football injuries. In fact, concussions aren't even most common in football - ice hockey and wrestling have higher rates. That is not to say concussions aren't serious injuries - they are. But the issue is severity, not commonality - and football, the most popular sport in America, has become the scapegoat hockey could never be.
Contention 2 - Current measures represent the best path
Concussion prevention is an inherently difficult topic. Possible solutions have ranged from concussion protocols before return, and reforms at the youth level. Most of these ideas are already in place and it is actually hard to picture better solutions.
Under the current system, players suspected of concussions are removed from play immediately and examined by an independent doctor. If they have symptoms, they are not allowed to return to the game - and they are not allowed to play in future games until the symptoms are gone. Illegal hits to the helmet are subject to penalty, fines, or even ejections.
This system resolved two of the major issues: players deciding not to self-report, and doctors having a conflict of interest. It also created an incentive for players not to hit the helmet. While it is possible this system could be improved - and it will as time goes on - new programs aren't needed, or maybe even possible. The biggest risk with concussions is repeated ones in the same game, which is extremely dangerous and can lead to permanent brain damage, and this system of pulling players is designed to prevent it.
A final measure, reform at youth level, is in progress. Techniques learned early tend to last for a lifetime. Youth leagues are working to teach proper tackling techniques, so players face less concussions over their lifetime than they otherwise would. While the jury is still out on this, what is important is that reform should be bottom-up - not top-down.
Contention 3 - Risks are somewhat overstated
Playing football is a risk. It's been known since, well, the time in began. Theodore Roosevelt threatened to ban it in 1902 because of fatalities. That being said, the risks are - to be blunt - being a bit overstated. The average football player lives longer than the average American male. While rates for brain damage are indeed three times more than the general population, that study showed only 14 deceased players (out of 334 deceased overall), or roughly 4%, died from Alzhimer's or ALS. Rates of Parkinson's were not any higher than the general populace. That's a very small percentage of people; the general population would have had 5 deaths to those conditions. While these cases are indeed sad, especially to loved ones and the fans to who witnesses the unique talent these player had, they are not the norm.
Contention 4 - Teams and players should take the initiative
Without a doubt, the direct responsibility for players lies on themselves and their coaches. It is important for individual players and coaches to work on a case-by-case basis to make the best decisions. League-wide actions simply aren't the way for reform. The most pressing issues are to encourage self-reporting, and to ensure the long-term health of players. But each player is different - would a blanket decision to, say, make players sit four weeks help everyone? Of course not. Some are ready after a week, while others might be ready after six or eight. That's a decision that can best be made by the player, their coach, and their team doctor. League-wide actions won't change culture - coaches acting will.
Concussions, like any injury, deserve attention. But the current mass hysteria simply doesn't reflect reality, and it shouldn't drive people to make hasty decisions. Current reforms are making things safer, and the risks being aimed to prevent are actually fairly low. Decisions on what actions should be done should be made on a case-by-case basis by the players and those who understand them best.
I look forward to my opponent's rebuttal!
Thank you TN05. I'll just be getting right into rebuttals.
Re: Contention 1
Uniqueness is irrelevant. This debate is not "only the NFL and no other league should do more to protect players from concussions" and anything else is outside of the resolution. The NHL probably should also but that's a separate debate. In response to the frequency argument, there are two issues. The first is that like my opponent said, this is an issue of severity. Concussions lead to serious problems later in life including long term impairments and brain damage. In some instances, it can even lead to death from brain swelling.  In addition, concussions are extremely under reported.  The neurosurgeon that inspired the film Concussion even argues that over 90%of players have brain injuries to some extent.  Also, even 5% is alarming with the severity of the injury. That means (if my opponent's figure had actually been accurate) one of every twenty players has suffered a concussion-an alarming rate.
Re: Contention 2
I explained in my constructive how, under the current system, failure to act is common. Cross apply these arguments. In addition, the youth-based effort is great, however (if it actually does work) we can't just let the concussion epidemic continue for fifteen years until these kids are the ones in the league. Top-down must be put in action for the now and for the future as rules and techniques tend to trickle down from there.
Re: Contention 3
My opponent's own source 4 speaks of the dangers and extent of head trauma in the NFL.
"The research found that professional football players in this study were three times more likely to die as a result of diseases that damage brain cells compared to the general population. A player’s risk of death from Alzheimer’s disease or ALS was almost four times higher than the general population." 
Death isn't the only issue here. Debilitating diseases also are of significant concern and action should be taken to prevent this.
Re: Contention 4
No doubt, players and coaches should be more attentive. However, as proved in my constructive, simple actions made by the league (under-turf mat, redesigned helmets, neck brace, better enforcement of rules) can make a big difference and positively affect player safety. It is for this reason that we must affirm the resolution.
I'd like to thank my opponent for his rebuttal. I will be refuting his opening statements.
My opponent cites a study, which reports to find that 40% of former NFL players have some type of brain abnormality an 45% have difficulty learning and retaining information. However, this study has several flaws: it only sampled 40 players, the person who conducted it noted it doesn't prove anything. He doesn't even propose any major changes - just maybelimiting contact drills in practices. My opponent also argues that TBIs increased 58% last year; that's technically true, but not really. There were twiceas many player evaluations that year for concussions (meaning more reported inuries), as well as a sharp increase in self-reporting for concussions. In other words: concussions aren't increasing, awareness and reporting is.
Lack of response
My opponent argues here that we need to enforce rules already on the books; I agree, although I don't consider this as "doing more" to reduce concussions. He notes the example of Cam Newton (a personal issue for me as a Panthers fan) being hit in the head numerous times in the season opener. While we can certainly argue flags should have been called (answer: they should have), there was not actually any concussions. When Cam actually did get a concussion against Atlanta, he was promptly pulled from the game and had to sit out a week. These are not really failures of lack of action, then, but a lack of proper use of the rules.
Path of action
My opponent provides several ideas as to how the league could reduce concussions. He proposes offering free healthcare to any player who played more than three years - this is not a great idea. Unlike in the NBA, which has small rosters, the NFL has 53-man rosters, most of whom never see the field. The price for this would be very, very high, and many people being paid would not have ever seen a single snap.
My opponent also proposes modification of helmets. One major issue I would note is that the league doesn't choose helmets - players do. The Army helmet noted, in particular, requires a full-body suit connected to the spinal cord and pelvis. In a league that prides itself on mobility, who on earth would want to wear such bulky equipment? I suppose the league could mandate it, but the NFLPA would likely strike rather than be forced to do anything. The mat that my opponent proposes sounds cool, but again, that wouldn't be a league-wide measure - less than half of NFL stadiums use artificial turf, and the underlay simply doesn't work on natural grass. The league could mandate turf, but this would be a problem - not all stadiums are designed for it, and turf fields ares widely considered to be more dangerous than grass fields. In fact, players across all sports almost universally despise the hard playing surface of turf, and a certain type of turf using "crumb rubber" has been suspected as a cause for a rash of cancer cases among soccer goalies. Aditionally, turf has a higher risk of leg injuries - which, in the rash to scapegoat concussions, it should be noted that physical injuries can cause lifelong problems as well.
Why the NFL?
My opponent argues change will most effectively made at the NFL level because it will "trickle down". He argues other leagues seek to follow the NFL. I disagree - each level of football has its own rulebook, and works independently. Leagues value their independence and tradition. The NFL changed the length of the extra point last year, but this hasn't gone to the college or high school level. Rather than top-down change, I see the most effective method in reducing injuries as a whole as being bottom-up - develop good playing techniques early rather than try and compenstate for them later. The most effective way to reduce concussions is to teach proper techniques early.
Pro and Con have agreed concussions are an extremely serious issue. Therefore, concussions should be combated. Concussions can cause irreparable damage to the brain and even death. Concussions are underreported, as per my rebuttal, and not properly dealt with, as per the constructive. We must do something to prevent this very real danger.
2. The NFL's role
Both sides agree more has to be done. I argue that enforcing current rules is doing more, since the rules aren't enforced in the status quo. A change in the status quo means doing something different, in this case more. Vote Pro as Con conceded that rules should be enforced and therefore that more should be done. Additionally, my points about helmets are definitely still standing. Helmets could easily be mandated to meet certain requirements as per the league's rules. Vote Pro on this. My opponent's turf rebuttal applies only to the loose rubber turf apparently, so pull through the turf idea also. Finally we have healthcare. Though the NFL has far more players, they have, on average, shorter careers (see constructive) AND the NFL has far more capital than the NBA. The league could easily afford it. Don't buy Con's argument about cost.
As almost every one of my avenues toward a safer league stands, I can see no vote but a Pro vote. Thank you.
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