Wednesday, October 20

Football Ruined?

Indeed, the party is ruined. No discussion has dominated sports talk more this week than the NFL dealing with severe hits to the head and how to police them. There seems to be (like most issues in this country) two factions: football traditionalists who feel the new measures will result in the pussification of America and those that feel head trauma needs to be reduced as much as possible.

I believe that you cannot truly eradicate head injuries from football. Hits and collisions will happen. The Dunta Robinson-DeSean Jackson collision as an example. In the video above James Harrison uses his head as a weapon against Josh Cribbs, knocking the ball loose. Cribbs is left on the ground while Harrison gets up and celebrates. This type of play is one that has been championed in football ever since heavy padding and helmets were no longer leather. Harrison could have used his tremendous power to tackle Cribbs on what was already a play for minimal gain, but it seems (cannot exactly say as fact) that Harrison knew if he launched his helmet as a weapon he could knock Cribbs senseless and therefore dislodge the ball. It is these type of hits that we are seeing permanent damage from in former NFL athletes.

In the second hit I do not fault Harrison as much, he is going for a forearm hit to Massaquoi to dislodge the ball and/or get a flashy hit. Massaquoi's head ducking leads to contact with the helmets. Still, what would be called for there would be a driving tackle into Massaquoi's midsection to shoulder pads. Instead, there is a culture in the NFL now to make a big "pop" of a hit, instead of the fundamental take down. People complain about the lack of fundamental play in basketball leading to turnovers and sloppy play, have you noticed a lot of horrible tackling in football lately? It's there, and it's widespread. One of the reasons is players going for a big hit and missing.

We are a bloodthirsty society, I can't deny even I like to see violence. I as much as anyone was championing the release of The Expendables. I like seeing hard hits in football, but knowing what we know now about concussions I don't like seeing head trauma. Football can still be a violent game and give fans thrills without permitting the collisions that knock players out of the game and can cause long-term damage to their lives. The "they know what they are signing up for when they play football" argument is weak. Every football player knows there are inherent risk but they play because they either like the game, like the money or both. But if you tell a player that steps can be taken to reduce the chance of brain damage and the game made safer most players would be for that. The twist is that the players think they can't play effectively if that safety precaution is taking away shots to the head.

It will be interesting to see how the NFL implements their new policy. If they do it correctly, players will not senselessly launch themselves at others as a first resort. This can be an opportunity for coaches and players to reaffirm proper tackling technique and wrapping up. James Harrison can say he is going to retire and that is fine. Take your talents somewhere else, the WWE maybe. I hear they are lax on certain employee health policies. This past weekend should be seen as an incredible teaching tool about this issue. Sometimes these hits happen suddenly (Robinson's hit), sometimes the hit is part of an ill-conceived notion that it is acceptable and celebrated (Harrison on Cribbs), and sometimes it is just plain wrong (Meriweather on Heap).

Football can and should be played without taking shots at players heads. The ignorance or blind eye turned by players and coaches is no excuse for allowing these sort of collisions. The speed and strength of the athletes will never prevent them fully, but a policy to stop a practice that could very well be more detrimental than steroids should be embraced not seen as a de-machofication of the league. But what do I know, I never played the game.

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