PHOENIX — Not only did the number of diagnosed concussions in the NFL go down in 2016, but John Mara believes that the way those that did take place occurred has changed dramatically in recent years.
Those jarring helmet-to-helmet hits that the NFL has been working hard to eliminate from the game have become a rarity rather than the routine.
“I think it has been coached out,” Mara, the Giants’ co-owner and a member of the league’s competition committee, told Newsday on Sunday at the NFL’s annual meetings. “I’ve been on the committee 17 years now and it’s a much different take than you saw years ago. Hopefully that will have an effect over the long haul.”
Mara said he and the committee members watched each of the 244 documented concussions from the 2016 season (down from 275 in 2015).
“Six or seven years ago or more you saw all these violent helmet-to-helmet hits, especially in the secondary, and you don’t really see that anymore,” Mara said. “A lot of it is the head hitting the ground or the head hitting a knee. Players are changing. We think over the long haul that’s going to have a positive effect, but we’ll see. Time will tell.”
The NFL has been criticized for being slow to react to concussions and their link to health issues for players down the road. CTE used to be the three letters no former NFL player wanted to hear, but that may be joined by ALS after former 49ers receiver Dwight Clark announced he has been diagnosed with that disease.
Mara said there is no plan to address the threat of ALS at these meetings specifically.
“I think we’re always focused on health and safety,” he said. “I mean, we’re doing so much research in so many different areas I’m sure that will be one the things that the league looks at. We’re spending millions of dollars on helmet research now, which has never been done before, and we think that over the next few years we’re going to make some progress in that area. The number of concussions went down this year; we’re hopeful that’s the start of a trend.
“We’re always concerned about everything, but I can’t sit here and say we have to focus on [something in particular]. We’re concerned about head injuries in general.”