John Oliver, the rambunctious host of Last Week Tonight, is famous for his exuberant and light-hearted method of poking fun at serious issues. But it’s his latest outrageous claim that has many thinking about an underlying issue that’s often ignored in the world of American football.
During an episode of Last Week Tonight, Oliver took a swipe at the NFL. He criticised the gladiatorial-like nature of the sport, in which players put their bodies on the line for entertainment. “There is already prime-time programming where people kill themselves for our entertainment – it’s called Monday Night Football,” Oliver said.
Oliver doubled down on his criticism, “Happy concussion season, football fans! It sure feels like this sport maybe shouldn’t exist.” While Oliver’s remarks might sound blasphemous to a die-hard football fan who would rather than miss the birth of their child than a game featuring their favourite team, player safety has been a concern for years now.
Oliver’s comments come amidst widespread criticism of the NFL’s concussion protocols after a scary incident involving Miami Dolphins Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa prompted a systematic review of player safety. In a game against the Buffalo Bills earlier this season, Tagovailoa stumbled while regaining his footing. He had to be assisted in leaving the field but was cleared of a concussion and returned to the game.
Tagovailoa was given the green light to play less than a week later, despite showing clear signs of a concussion. During the game he fell victim to another big hit, but this time the 24-year-old stayed down. Tagavailoa immediately showed signs of a serious concussion. His finger’s bent into an unnatural position, a result of decorticate posturing, which usually signifies severe damage to the brain. Tagovailoa was eventually carted off the field, but with the potential long-term effects of a major concussion, it’s too late. The NFL’s concussion protocols failed to protect Tagovailoa.
Tagovailoa has missed two straight games for the Dolphins and his injuries have sparked a review by the NFL. The NFL stated that “while the step-by-step process outlined in the concussion protocol was followed, the outcome in this case was not what was intended when the protocol was drafted.”
As a result of the review, ataxia, which describes poor muscle control that causes issues with balance and movement, has been added to the list of symptoms within the concussion protocol that would prevent a player from being cleared to return to a game. Under these new rules, Tagovailoa would not have been able to return to the game against the Bills.
Tagovailoa’s injuries have shown the inadequacy of concussion protocols and the need for reform. “We do not believe this was a meaningful application of the protocols.” said NFL Players Association president and former player JC Tretter. “Nobody, including the NFL, believes he should have been put back in the game.”
Not everyone believes the NFL’s new concussion protocols are good for the game. Some have criticised the reforms because they slow down games and limit the play time of the most entertaining players.
state of the NFL:— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) October 11, 2022
tackling QBs is roughing the passer
stripping the ball from a QB is illegal if you fall down & he’s underneath you
players that never had concussions or concussion symptoms are being forcibly removed from games and then placed in concussion protocols for days pic.twitter.com/k0JzWU3xhg
Some fans have argued that injuries are a part of the game. Meaning that rule changes are simply making the sport softer and less entertaining.
As John Oliver has pointed out, football season is concussion season. Head injuries have always been a part of football and every player risks concussion when they step onto the field. It’s an ugly side to one of the world’s most popular sports. While Oliver’s claim that the sport shouldn’t exist might be an exaggeration, player safety must take priority over entertainment.