Timeout with Michael McCuaig: Concussions in the NFL

Head to head collisions and concussions are becoming more of a problem in the NFL. Is it the NFL’s responsibility to protect its players? Photo courtesy of http://www.hivehealthmedia.com/runningbacks-quarterbacks-hardest-head-shots/

The tough man’s game of having your “bell rung,” shaking it off and going back into the game, is and probably should be, long gone. It is my honest belief that the controversy of concussions in American football has been an issue in the last five to ten years.

Although it is the National Football League’s (NFL) responsibility to take care of its players, players need to know and understand the consequences of playing a physical contact sport. They should be aware that new equipment, rather than helping them to prevent injuries, is making them feel comfortable with the idea of “hitting hard,” which could cause traumatic injuries to the head and neck.

A significant number of ex-NFL football players argue that the NFL should be responsible for the concussions and brain injuries that take a toll on them.

At the start of the 2013 season, the Players Union and the NFL itself agreed on a $765 million legal settlement in hopes of putting the issue of concussions to sleep.

“The NFL is responsible, to a major extent. When I was playing we did not know about concussions. No one talked concussions. But in the last 10 years these guys knew that pain to the head was problematic; and, some of these doctors on the sidelines are more concerned, maybe, with pleasing the coach and getting the players back on the field right away . . . I think there is a problem in the NFL,” said Joe Namath, former Jets Quarterback.

The NFL has made attempts to improve since these veteran players have retired.

“The National Football League announced new rules governing concussion management. Players who have had a concussion will now only be allowed to return to the field after being cleared by an independent neurologist,” said Gina Shaw, writer for WEBMD.

The NFL has introduced a panoply of changes including limited contact in practice, crafting rules specifically to protect players from head injuries, establishing warnings of the dangers and consequences for giving concussions.

Regardless of the $765 million legal settlement in 2013, no money can pay for the problems concussions and brain injuries have caused for the former players of the NFL.

Is money really enough to quiet down this issue? According to the ex-NFL players, it is not.

On the flip side of the issue, a lot of people argue that the NFL should not be responsible. Instead, it should be the players’ responsibility to know the dangers of a physical contact sport like football. The NFL does not come down and give the players concussions, Ryan Derenbecker, Football Nation writer, argues. He instead faults sloppy play styles.

“The game has changed over the years because of this attitude among the players. In the early days of pro football, an NFL team’s equipment did not include a padded helmet with a facemask, or a plastic suit of armor that a knight would have envied,” Derenbecker said. “Such equipment was unnecessary, since players understood proper tackling form, and believed in sportsmanship and fair play, not in winning at any cost. Players had at least some form of respect for each other’s bodies and careers.”

He notes that rugby players largely avoid the same injuries even though they lack football players’ safety equipment. The “armor” he describes may be encouraging dangerous behavior rather than protecting players against it.

Derenbecker writes that the concussion lawsuit may ultimately steer talented players away from the game.

“With brain injuries come scared mothers, and potential future athletes being shunted off into baseball or soccer.  Without fresh talent, the game will die. And the cause of all this is those same people who are demanding a phony justice in their lawsuit,” Derenbecker said.

It is up to the players from the NFL to learn the fundamentals, tackle properly and just remember to play safely when they are out there. If they can do that, then they can set an example for younger players who are growing up from junior high to high school to college and then finally into the NFL, Arena Football, Canadian Football, etc.

Everyone can agree that the game of football has changed over time.  Some say it has changed for the better; some say it has changed for the worse.  When it comes down to it, in this scenario, blame the player and not the game.  This is an extreme statement, because people can not completely blame the player and say that he is at fault, but the players of the NFL are and should be responsible for what they are committing to do when they step out there on that football field.  If the players and the NFL work together and take the right precautions to solve the concussion and brain injury problem, then American sports fans can still hope to have the game of American Football.


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