ESPN's Bottom Line - Version 2.0

Monday, October 18, 2010

NFL Needs to Get Ahead of Head Injuries


This past weekend we saw some gruesome head injuries in the NFL and College Football. Although the hugely publicized hit on Desean Jackson was vicious it was incredibly minor when compared to the extremely sad circumstances of Rutgers Defensive Lineman Eric LeGrand. Eric went in for a crushing blow to the Army return man during the 4th quarter of the game during a kickoff return. This injury is not just heart-rending but it probably could have been avoidable.

So often hits that lead to severe concussion are caused by defenders going in for "kill-shots" by essentially launching themselves at the ball carrier as though they are helmet tipped missiles. Although hopefully the intent of said missiles in this case is to lay the wood to the ball carrier enough to dislodge the ball and not cause permanent bodily harm. After several medical studies have come out over the past 2 years detailing the chronic health and brain problems associated with severe and even mild yet repeated concussions, the NFL and football in general must do something to alleviate this problem. For a league so concerned with image it is vital that they take care of their players past, present, and future.

As a person who was in attendance for the Desean Jackson bludgeoning Sunday, I have to say that these hits are not an enjoyable part of the fan experience. It was frightening. I was sitting in the far endzone and saw Kolb start to roll left when Jackson came across the field into an opening. Just as this happened Kolb started his throwing motion which Robinson recognized and made his break towards Jackson. From my vantage point I knew that it was going to be a big hit because that's what defensive backs are trained to do when they can hit a receiver just as the ball gets there. As a former player I was hoping that Desean would see it coming in time to snatch the ball and lower his shoulders to protect himself. Unfortunately that didn't happen and Robinson almost decapitated him. The stadium went earily silent after the hit and it seemed like people understood that what just happened was more than a standard "hard hit." Right now all we can do is hope that he is ok.

The NFL has to do a lot more than just hope these guys come out ok, they have to take some proactive steps to eliminate such devastating hits. From the reports out there now it sounds like they will begin enforcing ejections and suspensions for such malicious play. There is a term used often in the Stieg Larsson "Girl with the Dragon Tatoo" series which categorizes violent attacks as GBH or Grievous Bodily Harm. I'm pretty sure it's the Swedish version of our Aggravated Assault, but GBH in my mind is a much better descriptor for what we are dealing here. It's been repeated many times but Peter King pointed out in his MMQ that in talking with Rodney Harrison, former hard hitting defensive back in his own right, a $25,000 fine isn't much to a guy who makes a few million a year. When a suspension is issued they forfeit a game check and earn an express pass to their coaches dog house. This is clearly the best first step the NFL can make.

There are other options though. The most interesting that I've heard is to lessen the size of the helmets. This is obviously a double edge sword because while it would make players more cautious about leading with their head it also opens them up to more severe damage if an accident does happen. This idea came from a friend who played Rugby in college and said that the lack of helmets definitely made players more cautious about slamming their head in places it shouldn't be.

What do you think? Do you know of any other ways that football can safeguard it's players?


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