When it comes to head injuries, football could learn from MMA

A growing problem in the National Football League is its players sustaining concussions, and the frightening effects those concussions bring about. The scene above was from an Eagles-Falcons game. Dunta Robinson and DeSean Jackson collided violently. Jackson was knocked out, and suffered memory loss and a severe concussion. What does this have to do with MMA?

Everything, if the powers-that-be in football look to MMA for guidance. Marc Ratner, the UFC's VP of regulatory affairs, former head of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and also the commissioner of high school football officials in Nevada, is familiar with the concussion problem in the NFL.

"Obviously, it is a problem with the NFL and hockey. People don't think that those are combat sports, but they really are in a lot of ways," Ratner told Cagewriter.

The referee is supremely important in maintaining the health of fighters.

"When you're talking about a combat sport like boxing or mixed martial arts, the referee is the most important person in the whole arena," Ratner said. "Unlike being a referee in football or basketball, your job is for the real safety of the fighters."

Ratner maintains that MMA causes less trauma than football. He is not alone, as former football player-turned-fighter Matt Mitrione says that MMA is much safer.

"I think there's a lot less trauma in MMA than football, because for the most part, the fights are three rounds, and you're on the ground a lot, and if the referees are doing their job, they jump in before there are too many head blows. A one-punch knockout is a lot less hurtful than a combination of taking nine minutes of continued head blows," Ratner said.

He pointed out how tight the concussion regulations are in MMA.

"The thing in combat sports is if there is any kind of concussion, or any kind of head blows, we send them to the hospital that night. The commissions are very, very observant of that," Ratner said. "For the most part, you can't spar for 30 days and you can't fight for 45. If it's a really severe thing, it might be that you can't spar for 45 and fight for 60. But you'd never fight for 45 days for any kind of concussion."

Though the NFL does have guidelines on how to handle concussions, they do not have a rule on how long a player has to sit after a concussion. Early in the season, the Eagles allowed a player who woozily fell twice while walking off the field back in the game. Football players have been back on the field just one week after an injury.

This is leading to long-term problems for players. Former Bears QB Jim McMahon reported memory problems, and Mitrione said that he believes he has brain damage.

A more frightening effect is chronic traumatic encelopathy, a disease linked to depression and problems with impulse control. Cincinnati's Chris Henry and University of Pennsylvania's Owen Thomas both suffered from CTE at the time of their tragic deaths.

The bottom line is that the NFL needs to be doing everything they can to protect their players in a violent sport. Taking some of the same actions as MMA, like a mandated time to sit out after a concussion, and discipline of coaches who don't abide by safety rules.

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