Play Smart, Play Safe: About the NFL's New Concussion Protocol

Physical therapist Jessica Thomas explains some of the benefits of the NFL's latest set of tools in the fight against head injuries.

Heads-Up Football Concussion Protocol

We're nearly halfway through the 2016 NFL season, and already some of the biggest names in the sport have been put on Injury Reserve (IR), meaning they'll miss part of, or even the entire season.

With all of the musculoskeletal injuries that we're seeing out on the field, perhaps the biggest issue in the game right now is concussions. Concussions, which have also been called "brain bruises" and "mild traumatic brain injuries," result from forces directly or indirectly applied to the skull that cause a rapid acceleration and deceleration of the brain. With these forces, the sudden change in cerebral velocity can manifest in a variety of symptoms, which vary from person to person.

Not until recently have many organizations given priority to creating policies and procedures for evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and return to play for traumatic brain injuries.

The NFL's new "Play Smart, Play Safe" initiative, announced by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell earlier this season, 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 set up to finance 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 of having a concussion, he is immediately removed from the field and taken to the locker room for evaluation
  • Hiring a physician to serve as the league's chief medical officer to work with each team's medical staff and establish an independent scientific advisory board
  • Assigning an unaffiliated neurotrama consultant to each team
  • The "Madden Rule." If the player is diagnosed with a concussion, he must be removed from the field and may not return to the game
  • Adding an ATC "spotter" with access to all views of the field to look for potential head injuries
  • 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 this year's season opener and seeing Cam Newton take several helmet-to-helmet hits, I feel it's more important than ever to have a comprehensive and evolving protocol to protect not only NFL players, but athletes everywhere.

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

NFL's Play Smart Play Safe Logo

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