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Once upon a time, big hits ruled the NFL. Look back at the biggest hits and hitmakers of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and you’ll see some of the most brutal moments in the history of the sport laid out by some of its top enforcers. Names like Jack Tatum made a name for themselves headhunting, while figures like Dave Duerson, a member of the legendary ’85 Bears defense, was no less punishing.

Unfortunately, those hits took their toll, punishing the punishers later in life. Duerson tragically battled severe headaches and mental health problems later in life, due in large part to the CTE that developed from the many hits he took and delivered during his career.

The NFL landscape is littered with far too many cases such as these, which is why the NFL has instituted a new concussion protocol.

The Concussion Protocol

If there is a reason to believe a player might have suffered a concussion, the player is immediately taken from the field and sent to have a focused neurological examination away from his coach and teammates by the team doctor and an independent physician. Video footage of the hit is also consulted. If the player in question is determined to have suffered a concussion, they are banned from returning to the game and must be evaluated in the coming days to gauge their condition and availability.

The Process to Return

In considering the player’s timetable for returning, certain symptoms are evaluated, including the following:

  • Any loss of consciousness
  • Motor function impairment and coordination problems
  • Blank looks
  • Dizziness
  • Persistent headaches
  • The player clutching their head after the hit

Once these factors have been considered, the road to recovery includes the following steps:

  • Uninterrupted rest
  • Light aerobic exercise when symptoms begin to subside
  • Gradual reintegration into team activities
  • Gradual reintegration into football-specific practices
  • Full clearance

The speed with which a player is able to clear this protocol will vary greatly depending on the player’s health, any prior history of concussions, and the nature of the hit itself.

This protocol is still new and being developed. It is highly worthwhile, however, and provides the only way to do right by the legacy of those like Duerson who were done wrong by the league’s past lack of protection.