This was an unprecedented year in research highlighting the dangers of head injuries to football players, striking the NFL and raising questions about the future of the league.
In an attempt to improve players’ overall safety and prevent injuries, the NFL has implemented nearly 50 rule changes in the past 15 years, with the most recent ones geared at protecting the head and neck.
However, even with added safety precautions the rate of concussions per season has not seen a consistent drop and even rose 58 percent in 2015 – the highest number in four years of record-keeping.
Added pressure has been put on the league from players and their families who believe the NFL has enabled head trauma by knowingly dismissing previous research that revealed the damaging effects on the brain.
There is no way to know if the game can ever be safe while maintaining the essence of what it is, which is the question on players’, officials’ and fans’ minds as experts try to grapple with a league that averages 243 reported concussions per season.
Daily Mail Online broke down what we know about the rules thus far, future options being explored and how impossible that question may be to answer.
The history of football and brain injury
Groundbreaking new research revealed a degenerative brain disease called CTE in 99 percent of former players whose brains were examined after death.
The study published in July was the largest of its kind that spotted CTE in 110 of 111 brains.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated hits to the head that result in confusion, depression, dementia, aggression and suicidal thoughts.
Though the new research brought the disease into the public eye, doctors have been finding CTE in dead players’ brains for more than a decade but the findings have been repeatedly dismissed by the NFL.
The first case of CTE in football players was discovered in 2002 by Dr Bennet Omalu who examined former player Mike Webster’s brain, who suffered from mental and mood disorders.
After Dr Omalu diagnosed several other players with the disease, he published his findings in 2005.
That same year the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee said that returning to play after sustaining a concussion ‘does not involve significant risk of a second injury either in the same game or during the season.’
It wasn’t until last year, after a swell of research showed the damaging effects football has on the brain and the 2015 movie Concussion which starred Will Smith as Dr Omalu, that the NFL acknowledged the connection between football and CTE.
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against the league by former players and their families for the NFL’s handling of concussion-related injuries, wrongful death and negligence.