NFL once again ignoring injury concerns with new 'Thursday Night Football' deal

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – You probably heard that the NFL has a new $3.3 billion deal to broadcast “Thursday Night Football.” After all, big dollars make for big headlines.

You probably did not hear the latest injury data from the NFL, released last week. After all, medical information tends not to be as buzzworthy.

But it should be.

The injury rate (per game) on weekend and Monday games stayed roughly the same from 2016 to 2017. The Thursday rate jumped from 5.3 to 6.9.

Related: See the worst sports injuries from 2017: 

27 PHOTOS
The most devastating and impactful sports injuries of 2017
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The most devastating and impactful sports injuries of 2017
Warning: Some of these injuries may be difficult to look at. Viewer discretion is advised. 

Brand new Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia within the first few minutes of Boston's season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

(Photo by Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone on October 15, 2017 while playing against the Minnesota Vikings. Prior to Week 15, Rodgers said he had been medically cleared to return

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller nearly lost his leg after he landed awkwardly during a touchdown catch -- that was later overturned.

(Photo by Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman's season ended after a ruptured Achilles tendon during Thursday Night Football.

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt's season ended after he injured his left knee on October 8.

(Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On March 6, Andrew Bogut broke his leg less than one minute into his debut with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Johan Camargo of the Atlanta Braves fell to the ground running onto the field in a strange freak accident.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown broke his hand, ending his season after Week 14. 

(Photo by Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Ryan Shazier of the Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a scary injury that left him motionless on the field and may have ended his football career.

(Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

In the first game of the season, Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs ruptured his Achilles tendon, ending his season.

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

On October 8, Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a scary-looking injury to his ankle and was carted off the field in tears

(Photo by Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper suffered a bone bruise after landing awkwardly on first base during a game in August. 

(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman was ruled out for the entire season after tearing his ACL during a preseason game.

(Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Rookie running back Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings tore his ACL during Week 4, ending his season. 

(Photo by Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner missed 3 months of the 2017 season after suffering a shoulder injury in a dirt biking accident. 

(Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)

Running back David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals dislocated his wrist during the Cardinals' season opener. It was announced that he would miss the entire season.

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

New York Mets ace Noah Syndergaard was sidelined for much of the season after tearing a lat muscle in April.

(Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights missed 25 games after taking a knee to the head on October 15. 

(Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout spent time on the disabled list for the first time in his career this season after tearing a ligament in his thumb. He missed 39 games.

(Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)

Isaiah Thomas was sidelined by a hip injury during the Eastern Conference Finals. When he was later traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, further issues with his hip nearly nullified the agreement. 

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Impressive young quarterback Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans sustained an ACL injury during practice in November and was ruled out for the remainder of the year.

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Tom Savage, who took over for the injured Watson, suffered an unsettling concussion during Week 14 play that had many questioning the NFL's injury protocol. 

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck did not play a game in 2017 after undergoing shoulder surgery.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf took a puck to his face on October 29, sidelining him for up to two months after surgery.

(Photo by James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Jeremy Lin of the Brooklyn Nets will miss the entire season after tearing a tendon in his knee during the team's season opener.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz went down in Week 14 with a torn ACL, ending his season and shaking the team's Super Bowl hopes.

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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The league held a conference call last week to discuss the data and the first speaker was Dr. Christina DeFilippo Mack, who is the senior director of epidemiology at clinical research company IQVIA. She said the following: “From 2014-17 … the rates of injuries occurring during Thursday games have not exceeded those suffered by players with more days of rest. This season, for the first time, we saw a one-year shift, where injury rates on Thursdays were slightly higher than games played on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.”

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It’s “a one-year shift” so far. What if it becomes a two-year shift? Or three?

In fairness, Mack called it “not statistically significant.”

In his state of the league address at the Super Bowl, commissioner Roger Goodell said, “We don’t think it’s anything to overreact to.”

But it’s worrisome all the same. A lot of players do not like Thursday night games, and with good reason. They come off a difficult game on a Sunday, they sometimes have to travel that night, then they get only three days to heal, put in a new game plan for a new opponent, practice, and then it’s game day again. Richard Sherman, a noted opponent of Thursday football, said on a typical Wednesday a player is “still discovering bruises from Sunday that you didn’t know you had.”

7 PHOTOS
Richard Sherman suffers ruptured Achilles tendon
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Richard Sherman suffers ruptured Achilles tendon
Nov 9, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) ruptured his Achilles tendon as he tackles Arizona Cardinals wide receiver John Brown (12) in the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09: Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals is unable to complete the pass against cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of the NFL game at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 9, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09: Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts after an injury on a play in the second half of the NLF game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 9, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Nov 9, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) is helped off the field after the game by a coach after rupturing his Achilles tendon against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 9, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) leaves the field with a doctor after suffering an injury in the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09: Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts after an injury on a play in the second half of the NLF game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 9, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09: Cornerback Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks is helped off the field following the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on November 9, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. The Seahawks defeated the Cardinals 22-16. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, was pressed on the “one-year shift” and he answered by asserting that “assessing the overall health and safety impact of the game is a lot more complex than just a simple injury rate.”

That’s fine, but then how are we supposed to know if “Thursday Night Football” is in fact more dangerous because of the short recovery time? Mack is measuring “any injury that caused the player to be removed from participation or precluded them from playing on a subsequent day,” but as we all know, NFL players fight through injuries without leaving the field of play. The 2014 data was a little different, as it was based on a “historical surveillance injury definition.” Then it was changed in 2015. The old bromide is “Are you hurt or are you injured?” Both should matter for this conversation.

Concussion symptoms, for example, do not always show up immediately after a head injury. Sometimes they appear the day after a game, or even a day after that. Having six or seven or even eight days to monitor a player – for a brain injury or any injury – has to be healthier than three.

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Prominent cases of NFL players with CTE
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Prominent cases of NFL players with CTE
San Diego Chargers Junior Seau during a game against the New York Jets at the Qualcomm Stadium Sunday November 3, 2002, in San Diego, CA. (Photo by Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Frank Gifford provides the classic throwing motion in his University of Southern California Trojans uniform. Following his college days, Gifford went on to star for the NFL's New York Giants, then worked as a broadcaster for CBS and ABC's Monday Night Football. (University of Southern California/Collegiate Images via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND - OCTOBER 9: Quarterback Ken Stabler #12 of the Oakland Raiders on the ground after taking a hit during a game against the Cleveland Browns at Municipal Stadium on October 9, 1977 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Raiders defeated the Browns 26-10. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 14: Defensive back Tyler Sash #39 of the New York Giants on the sidelines against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at Candlestick Park on October 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers 26-3. Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Inside linebacker Jovan Belcher #59 of the Kansas City Chiefs watches from the sidelines during his final game against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 13: Offensive lineman Terry Long #74 of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks with offensive line coach Hal Hunter (R) on the sideline during a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Three Rivers Stadium on September 13, 1987 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Mike Webster #52 of Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during a game circa 1987 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Webster played for the Steelers from 1974-88. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Sporting News via Getty Images)
Quarterback Earl Morrall #15 of the Miami Dolphins looks on from the sidelines against the New York Jets during an NFL football game at The Orange Bowl November 19, 1972 in Miami, Florida. Morrall played for the Dolphins from 1972-76. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Defensive tackle Shane Dronett #75 of the Atlanta Falcons in action during the game against the New York Jets at the Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets defeated the Falcons 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Todd Warshaw /Allsport
Dave Duerson #22 of the Chicago Bears looks on during a game in the 1985 season. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - DECEMBER 31: Guard John Wilbur #60 of the Washington Redskins rests on the sideline against the Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium in the 1972 NFC Championship Game on December 31, 1972 in Washington, D.C. The Redskins defeated the Cowboys 26-3. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 10: Defensive back Andre Waters #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on from the sideline during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Veterans Stadium on December 10, 1989. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Cowboys 20-10. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 21: New York Jets players tackle New England Patriots player Mosi Tatupu during a game at The Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J. on Sept. 21, 1987. The game was the last game before a strike in the NFL. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 31: Offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk #73 of the Pittsburgh Steelers on the sideline during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Three Rivers Stadium on August 31, 1997 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
CIRCA 1968: Defensive Tackle Bubba Smith #78 of the Baltimore Colts is seen watching the action from the bench circa 1968 during an NFL football game. Smith played for the Colts from 1967-71. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 1: Running back Ollie Matson #33 of the Los Angeles Rams poses for a publicity photo during training camp at Chapman Colleg on August 1, 1961 in Orange, California. (Photo by Vic Stein /Getty Images)
FILE: Baltimore Colts HOFer John Mackey during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
BALTIMORE - OCTOBER 11: Chris Henry #15 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 11, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Bengals defeated the Ravens 17-14. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 15: John Grimsley #59 of the Houston Oilers lines up during a football game against the Chicago Bears on October 15, 1989 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Oilers won 33-28. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Defensive end Pete Duranko of the Denver Broncos watches from the sideline against the San Diego Chargers at San Diego Stadium on September 24, 1972 in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Broncos 37-14. (Photo by James Flores/Getty Images)
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And therein lies the dilemma. There’s no question that money helps the league and, indirectly, the players. A new TV deal and a new source of revenue lift all boats financially. But there’s also no question that more recovery time between games helps the league’s most valuable asset: the players themselves. It also helps the product on the field. How many unforgettable Thursday night games can you recall off-hand?

“I just don’t understand why the NFL says it’s taking a stand on player safety,” Sherman wrote in The Players Tribune, “then increases the risks its players face by making them play on Thursday, before their bodies are ready.”

It’s a good question with no good answer.

At this point, the NFL can have its $3.3 billion cake and eat it too. The money is rolling in, even though ratings have dipped slightly, and the injury data isn’t overwhelmingly negative. Yet.

But it’s fair to ask: if the injury rate for Thursdays develops into an alarming trend, what then? How many years of this would it take for the league to seriously consider scaling back Thursday night games?

Probably at least five, if not more. After all, money talks loudly, and injuries are usually kept to a whisper.

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