Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My Head Examination for the NFL

It seems like concussions have been occurring more than ever through the first 6 weeks of this NFL season. In fact, some sources count 46 known and diagnosed concussions thus far this season. The topic has been nearly unavoidable in the sports media the last few weeks and the NFL just announced that they are going to start suspending players for excessively violent hits to the head. Here is my free head examination for the NFL, its owners, and its players.


I love football. In many cases what happens on Sunday sets the tone for my entire week. I agree that something must be done to protect the game's biggest assets (the players), however I don't believe that suspending players for helmet-to-helmet hits is the correct decision right now.

The NFL is a violent game. It earned its popularity in America by being a violent game and has for many years treated it as a selling point with highlight reels and countdowns of huge hits backed by rock music. To have the first reaction of the league be to attempt to de-violence play on the field seems hypocritical to me, especially when it comes out that the league is selling photos of these violent hits. To try to de-violence the way the game is played is unnecessary at this point. The NFL profits from the violent nature of the league (literally). To me this looks like a panicking, knee-jerk decision by the NFL.

This is a problem that could be taken care of differently by the commissioner, or even by the owners independently. If I were an NFL owner, I would make it mandatory that all my players wear the newer, lighter helmets that have scored the highest in the most recent league safety testing (the Schutt DNA Pro+ scored highest in the NFL's test). These helmets are stronger, have more padding, and are lighter, aka less of a weapon than other helmets. For this to be most effective it should be mandated league-wide so that everybody wears the same helmet.

I would also require all players to wear mouth guards. Wearing a simple mouth guard is one of the best and easiest ways to protect yourself from concussions, yet many players do not wear them today.

Along with the mandatory helmet changes, and mouth guards, I would also mandate all players buckle their chinstraps like the rules are written (the last time I remember the league even addressing the chinstrap rule/issue was 2007!).

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for player safety and I think the NFL's intentions are good; they just aren't the right actions at this point. The league suspending players is unnecessary right now. It just creates more opportunities for judgement calls to be made by league officials that could significantly alter a team's season. The league needs to enforce the current rules it has in place, as well as proactively force owners to protect their players by issuing leaguewide safety regulations like the ones mentioned above. This would be a proactive way to react to the vicious spike in concussions the league has seen this season. Realistically the league shouldn't even have to mandate it. Any smart owner should be more than willing to protect their most valuable assets.

The league should encourage owners to make these safety regulations and monitor the effects on the field. If the problem does not improve or worsens, then something additional may need to be done like suspending players for certain hits. For now, it is in the best interest of the league, its owners, and its players to address this issue at square 1. I believe this starts with somethings as simple as equipment and safety regulations.

Players and owners are constantly referring to the NFL as a business. They are always expecting fans and players to understand that the game is a business. If the game truly is a business then common sense would tell you to protect your revenue generating assets. Enforce safety regulations on the players that you pay to play for you so that you can keep them out on the field! Even if it weren't league mandated like I suggested, any owner taking these steps would be doing themselves, their fanbase, and their players a favor. We all know they can afford it and it is the right thing to do.

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