NFL tackles concussion problem

NFL tackles concussion problem
April 30, 2013, 2:00 pm
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According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the most dangerous sport is football, followed by soccer, wrestling, and girls’ basketball. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

On March 20th, NFL owners passed a new rule that prevents running backs and defenders from lowering their head and using the crown of their helmet to cream another player when outside the tackle box. The rule passed 31-1 with the Cincinnati Bengals the lone dissenter.

Coaches and officials are going to be challenged in teaching and enforcing the new rule. A 15-yard penalty will be assessed from the spot of the foul. Players who use their helmets as battering rams to ward off opponents to gain extra yardage will have to find another way.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, team owners, coaches and current players are well aware of the ongoing class action lawsuit initiated by 4,000 retired players relating to concussion damage.

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin weighed in on the decision to implement the new rule: “The number one thought is the safety of our players. There is an effort about how the helmet was trying to be taken out of the game. It’s a major influence in teaching proper technique that we were all taught when we started to play.”

No one will argue that football is a violent game, or that the NFL is the ultimate cash cow and leader in spectator popularity polls and TV ratings. If you want to see a definition of hard hits that has cause brain damage and other nasty long lasting bodily harm check out this YouTube clip called “NFL Hard Hits.” It is fifteen minutes and 24 seconds of nonstop human T-boning sure to rearrange body parts, connective tissue, and vital organs -- including the computer inside the skull:

 Headlines are screaming that it’s time to do something about the escalating incidents of player injuries and the long term effect from blows to the head caused by the football collisions taking place in NFL, college, high school, and youth football fields throughout the country.

According to the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the most dangerous sport is football, followed by soccer, wrestling, and girls’ basketball. The growth of youth lacrosse is sure to add additional concerns to the parents of multi-sport athletes.

The NFL is a $9 billion juggernaut and lawyers for those involved in the class action suit are looking at all the media contracts and sponsor partnerships -- that add up to $30 billion dollars -- as a tantalizing target. The blood that flows through -- and out of the NFL coffers -- is green.

There are precedent-setting decisions that the league is making to protect itself, and and it is happening right in front of our eyes. Many proponents of “smash mouth football” are having a hard time coming to grips with the NFL’s aggressive program to protect players and paydays.

NFL-GE Joint Venture
The National Football League and General Electric have teamed up to improve the diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries. On March 11th they announced a $60 million effort alongside neurologists to speed up research into brain injuries and the development of new technologies to help protect the brain from traumatic injury to benefit athletes, the military, and the broader public.

The initiative includes a $40 million research program into imaging technologies to improve diagnoses, and an additional $20 million pool of funds open to researchers and businesses trying to improve the prevention, identification and management of brain injuries.

Americans are increasingly worried about brain injuries suffered by children and adolescents playing sports.

The NFL and GE, the largest U.S. conglomerate, will split the investment equally, with a $5 million investment from Under Armour toward a project to develop new materials and technologies to protect the brain from injury and to develop programs to track head impacts and injuries as they happen.

The initiative comes nearly two months after the Institute of Medicine launched a sweeping study of sports-related concussions, particularly those in young people from elementary school through early adulthood.

Kickoffs and Punt returns
Talk about hard hits. When Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the offseason that the NFL's competition committee would consider replacing the kickoff, pigskin pundits went nuts. The league previously had moved the kickoff from the 30- to 35-yard line to cut down on violent collisions.

Goodell and Rich McKay, the head of the league's competition committee, discussed an idea brought up by Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano.

A team, instead of kicking off after a late score, would get the ball at its own 30-yard line in a fourth-and-15 situation.The team then would punt the ball away or, to replace an onside kick, could go for it. If it failed to get a first down, the opposing squad would start with great field position.

Schiano was the coach at Rutgers in 2010 when Eric LeGrand was paralyzed on a kickoff. LeGrand broke two vertebrae and suffered a serious spinal cord injury in October 2010 during a kickoff return against Army. He became an inspiration to his college teammates, eventually being able to stand upright with the help of a metal frame.

Schiano told ESPN The Magazine in September that he believed kickoffs eventually would be eliminated from pro football.

"I believe that day will come," he said. "Unfortunately, it will probably take more players being seriously hurt. But I think there's another way to do this."

New Concussion Protocols

Last season, the NFL adopted stricter rules to determine when players can return to the playing field after suffering a concussion.

2013 NFL Draft
I’m no draft expert but when all the results are in and the “Draftniks” analyze all that went on in this year’s draft I’m sure they will find players whose draft status dropped based on their concussion history.

Cameras in Locker rooms

This could be a subliminal method to tone down the coaches getting their squads ready for the hits to come. Remember the New Orleans Saints and “Bountygate.” From now on, Big Brother and millions of fans will be watching.

The new protocols and preventative programs that the NFL has and will continue to initiate to improve player safety during their careers speaks volumes to current and future players. The game will be changing along with the violent way it is played. Footballers at all levels will benefit from the medical research, investment and pro-activity to create a safer environment in the ultimate contact sport.

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