Friends of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have reportedly had conversations with him regarding his concern that a player could die on the field if the violence of the game continues. This is a valid and legitimate concern that we have chosen to ignore because as a nation we love the game that we grew up watching. Warriors battling through the mud and the blood to win the game. The toughest of the tough that would have part of their finger amputated just so they could play in the next game.
No one is asking these tough guys to stop being tough but the facts are prevalent and something has to change. It is a conversation piece when Conrad Dobler lifts his pant legs to show what at some point in time would have been considered a knee. Or when Michael Strahan puts his ridiculously bent pinky finger to his mouth on his new daytime television show. But it is not a conversation piece when a former player cannot remember his name.
Eric LeGrand, whom as a Buccaneers fan I am partial to, is the definition of a warrior on the field. He had his life forever changed in a brief moment on the collegiate field and he has never stopped fighting to regain the freedom that we all take for granted every single day. Most of us can get right up and grab a soda from the fridge, check the mail, or go to the bathroom. Eric is fighting just to be able to get out of his wheelchair ever again because of the severity of the neck injury that he suffered.
Yet, there are men who are significantly injured in another way. You cannot tell simply by looking at them. But it can become blatantly obvious when you speak to them or hear them in an interview. These are the players who worked through a little haze. Got a little rattled. But then they got right back out there. You cannot stop these men from telling you they are fine and getting right back on the field. But the effects are undeniable.
Many of these men cannot remember what they did on the field, what they did last week, or many other things that we as a society take for granted every day. The autopsy of Junior Seau showed that he had damage from brain trauma. This is an undeniable result of playing this great game.
But it is an unnecessary result as well.
In Nascar, when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed at the end of the Daytona 500 the sport did not shut down. They did not adopt new rules that stated the cars could only go 50 miles per hour and that they could not bump each other. Instead, Nascar worked with the manufacturers of the safety equipment and created a revolutionary device that would stabilize the head and neck in a high speed crash.
Once upon a time the NFL utilized this “revolutionary” thinking. In the beginning the helmets were made of leather and they evolved to the current padding that the NFL players wear. But at some point the NFL decided that they wanted to make the game faster so they made the padding smaller and easier to manipulate.
The point is that the NFL is looking in the wrong places to solve the problems that they currently have. The current management in the NFL has identified the problem, there are too many concussions and significant injuries in the game. This is not fiction. They are exactly correct. But the answer is not telling the players to slow down. Telling the players you cannot tackle like this. Telling the players you cannot hit this player.
The answer is in the EQUIPMENT.
Why does the NFL insist on making the protective equipment smaller and easier to move in. If they were truly concerned with the safety of the players then the equipment would be larger and more restrictive. Players would not be able to establish the significant explosive hits if they are unable to move as freely.
Why does the NFL not look at making the helmet larger. It would appear that a larger helmet would provide more protection and be heavier which would slow the player down.
Is there a way to attach the helmet to the shoulder pads for linemen? Would that prevent many of the neck injuries that interior linemen often suffer?
Would bulkier and more restrictive leg pads slow players down to the point that we decrease the risk of concussions as well?
I am not a doctor and I do not pretend to have all of the answers.
What I do know is that there is a significant problem present and developing with the game right now. The brain is a complicated and fragile thing. These men make a choice to play this game and some of them are significantly rewarded. But too many pay too high of a price.
We have the technology. We have the some of the brightest minds available to develop a solution to this problem.Yet…the NFL has put a crossing guard up to say Slow Down. Brilliant!