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NFL sees sharp decline in concussions, hits on defenseless players

The NFL believes players have largely learned to avoid hits to the head of defenseless players.

NFL Competition Committee Co-Chair Rich McKay says that at all levels of football, players have taken to heart the rules against hitting opponents in the head when they’re in a defenseless posture. As a result, concussions have significantly declined and so have fines for players committing illegal hits.

“We were down 25 percent in total concussions from 2013 to 2014,” McKay said. “We were down 36 percent since 2012. I think one thing to note here is, and it really became apparent when we talked to the NCAA because they’re seeing the same affect, is we now have players that have come through high school and college and played their games under their targeting rule and those players are now coming into our league and playing under a similar defenseless player rule and I think it’s starting to show itself as players have adjusted in the way they play the game. I will tell you that this year we had somewhere close to a 63 percent decrease in fines to players for hits on defenseless players from 2013 to 2014. That’s a really substantial drop. It shows that players are conforming to the rules and I think part of it is they’re growing up with rules that change the way they play the game.”

In the wake of Chris Borland’s retirement, the NFL released a statement saying football is safer now than it has ever been before. It may take decades to know for sure whether the increased emphasis on avoiding helmet-to-helmet hits is reducing the risk of long-term brain damage associated with playing football. But the NFL believes it’s heading in the right direction.