This year’s Super Bowl is already a history-making event, with the youngest head coach, the oldest quarterback, and the first male cheerleaders. Ideally, it will also enter the record books with the fewest numbers of concussions, too.
It very well might: During the regular 2018 season, NFL players had fewer diagnosed concussions than they did in 2017, NFL.com reported. The NFL announced 214 diagnosed concussions in 2018’s preseason and regular season, a 24% decrease in concussions during the preseason and regular season, and a 29% decrease during just the regular season, including practices. The number of diagnosed concussions in 2018—214—is the second fewest since the NFL started releasing concussion data in 2012. (The fewest was 206 head injuries back in 2014.)
While that’s great news, the numbers must be taken in context: Concussions were down, but only after spiking dramatically in 2017. NFL players suffered more concussions in 2017 than in each of the previous five years, the league reported last year, with a reported 281 concussions, including head injuries, suffered in preseason games and practices. That constituted an increase of 15.6% over the five-year average.
After 2017’s startling numbers, the league made a few changes, including encouraging the use of advanced helmets, which 74% of players now use, compared to just 41% in 2017. It also instituted a rule that prevented using the helmet to initiate contact, which was controversial because change is scary. (SI has a good explainer.) While the NFL isn’t willing to say why the numbers dropped so significantly until it can fully parse the data, it’s a big drop. With hope, it will figure out how to make it permanent.
Awareness of a link between professional football and degenerative brain disease has grown in recent years, thanks in part to researchers like Ann McKee, who was named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business in 2018.