As the 2022 NFL Draft continues today, a new generation of football players realizes the dreams they’ve worked toward for years. The young men who hear their names called this weekend will be joining an NFL that has evolved tremendously in the time since they began playing the game as kids. While what we love about the game has held fast across generations, players entering the NFL for our 2022 season have grown up playing a game where the health and safety of athletes has been a prominent focus throughout their entire playing careers.
From the time they entered youth football, through their time playing on high school and college teams, and now preparing to enter the NFL, these players now being drafted have seen the prioritization of health and safety grow and evolve alongside them. They and we know more about the health and safety of athletes now than we ever have before, as a result of unprecedented advances in science and technology.
A 21-year-old player preparing to enter the league today would have been only 8-years-old when the original Lystedt Law passed in Washington state. The landmark policy established the first formal guidance around “return-to-play” protocol for athletes who suffer a concussion — paving the way for broader education and conversation about reducing risk in football and all youth sports. That policy, which the league was proud to champion across the country, ultimately saw versions pass in all 50 states, changing fundamentally the landscape of health and safety for youth athletes. These laws, which mandated medically supervised return-to-play protocols as well as education for coaches, players and parents, helped to ensure these and millions of other young athletes experienced sports that evolved with science to better focus on identifying and treating concussion in sports.
In addition to the Lystedt Law and stronger concussion protocols, elemental now to the game is the continuous evaluation and improvement of rules designed to eliminate the riskiest plays, adoption of better-performing equipment that is evolving more rapidly than ever, and the use of training techniques that allows the game to be coached and taught well while prioritizing injury reduction of all types. It’s that health-forward mentality we hope will contribute to the prevention of injuries from head to toe, help players proactively care for their mental wellness, and further strengthen our football culture overall. One tangible way we have seen that play out on the field is in increased self-reporting – and reporting from teammates – of possible concussion symptoms. It’s proof that adaptability – willingness to make changes as we learn more about how to improve – not only makes a great player and teammate, but also a true leader in understanding and advocating one’s own health and safety on and off the field.
As we celebrate the newly drafted players and look ahead to our 2022 season, player health and safety will continue to be a top priority for the league. This preseason, all offensive linemen, defensive linemen, tight ends, and linebackers in the NFL will wear the Guardian Cap – a protective covering that fits over a helmet – during practice, adding an important additional layer of impact protection during the period when we see the greatest concentration of helmet impacts. We’ve also expanded the mandate around using sensors on players during preseason practices, which will provide us with additional data and insights into player health during that critical period when we see the highest spike of lower extremity injuries, so we may continue to make impactful adjustments to training and practice regimens.
These are but two important steps that will help us continue progressing toward a safer game. We hope that these young players whose careers have grown alongside an improved health and safety environment will bring with them into the league a mindset of both awareness and intention that supports long, healthy careers. And as these athletes move forward in their careers, our goal at the NFL is to ensure that commitment to the health and safety of players continues to grow and evolve alongside them, and through future generations.
Editor’s note: Jeff Miller is the NFL’s executive vice president overseeing health and safety.
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