Three of the 32 NFL teams, including the Carolina Panthers, saw seven players miss at least one game with a concussion during the 2016 regular season, but nine others had just one player sit out, and the Oakland Raiders didn’t have any.
That discrepancy, revealed by analysis of an NFL injuries database the Observer created, leaves one top concussion expert concerned about underreporting of concussions by some league franchises.
Robert Cantu, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University’s School of Medicine and a leading concussion expert, said he’d have to see more than one season of data, but that the discrepancy in numbers could be caused by underreporting.
“It’s impossible to recognize all concussions,” Cantu said. “But you can do a better job of it if you try harder. Use more tools, take more time. And I don’t know that all teams are equally trying as hard.”
Cantu’s concern would be for a team that reported only a concussion or two per year for multiple seasons.
“I would worry very much that that team is underreporting what they know,” he said. “And even what they know isn’t the true incidence of concussion because players continue to hide concussions.”
An official with the third-party agency that collects and analyzes the NFL’s injury data said she’s confident in the reporting process.
“From a reporting perspective, particularly within games, we feel confident we are getting all of the concussions,” said Christina Mack, an epidemiologist for QuintilesIMS. “We feel confident that we’re getting the concussions in equal number from the teams.”
The league points to the decrease in preseason concussions – an area of concern a couple of years ago – as an example where dialogue between the league and its teams has improved.
Preseason concussions were not covered by the Observer’s database because the league does not require teams to release injury reports during the preseason.