Where Will the Concussion Crisis Take the NFL?


Hits to the head, outlawed… kind of. Hitting with the head, frowned upon, but not illegal, yet. Helmets flying off during plays, scary, but not an issue. Wait, what??? So the NFL might fine a player thousands of dollars for any contact with an opponent’s helmet but they’re completely fine with the helmet popping off during a play? Really? How sure are we that NFL doesn’t really stand for No Fricking Logic?

By Peter Christian

Bradie James takes off Kenny Britt's helmet with a tackle.

This season, there’s been an onslaught of media coverage about helmet to helmet collisions. We’ve heard plenty of brain experts discuss the violence of the game of football and the effects such hits have on the brains of the athlete. We’ve heard about how the commissioner and the rest of the league office want to make the playing field safer for the athletes. We’ve heard how the NFL is currently in discussion with doctors and equipment manufacturers to collaborate ways to make the game safer (but if the players already have safe equipment and are just using it improperly, it’s a moot point).

We’ve heard about the videos and memos the leagues sent to each individual team to remind them of which hits are encouraged and discouraged (See, I didn’t say legal/illegal there because the league is not penalizing players for the hits during the game, but is, instead, fining the players thousands of dollars after the game, which means the league is leaving the actual legality of a helmet to helmet hit in a purposefully gray area).

What I haven’t heard is how the league means to make the players safer with the equipment they wear, which seems like a logical avenue for them to pursue. Instead of hearing anything of that nature, I’ve seen a massive amount of helmets coming off during the play and somehow, that’s not a major issue with anyone. If you’re unsure exactly what I’m talking about, watch the fight between Cortland Finnegan and Andre Johnson and notice how easily those strapped up helmets are pulled off the players’ heads.

I’m not a brain expert, nor am I an engineer that designs football helmets. I am, however, an individual that watches football every day of the week from August until January. As a high school football coach I see much more football than the average human being and as a fan of both the college and pro games I tend to spend a lot of time watching the sport on the television as well. Through all of those hours of practice and games, the only level I see players helmets coming off mid-play is in the NFL. That, in my opinion, is the root of the problem.

Raiders legend Jack Tatum stands over a Vikings WR he knocked the helmet off of with a vicious hit.

By comparison, the NFL has more in-play helmet issues than any other level. It isn’t a stretch to see a dozen players’ helmets popping off during a play any week. Whereas, during the course of the entire season watching high school and college football I’ve seen less than a half dozen in-play helmet issues.

Now, don’t get me wrong, high school and college football have plenty of concussions within the game, but the severity of the concussions seems to be far less than that of the professional game. Without a medical degree and access to a major study of concussions in football at all levels, I can only link what I see and the helmet issue is a GINORMOUS red flag.

So why is the NFL seemingly more worried about the hits themselves than the equipment the players wear to protect themselves?

The simple answer is comfortability.

NFL players aren’t required to do a lot of things that they don’t want to do (other than peeing in a cup in front of someone) and that lack of requirement has led to the players being unsafe when they walk onto the field. When those same players get helped off the field due to injury the NFL powers that be sit back and say, “how does this continue to happen?”

Until the NFL begins cracking down on players using their protective equipment properly they are just going to be chasing their own tail when it comes to making the game safer. No rule changes about helmet hits or hitting defenseless ball carriers will curtail head injuries. Enforcing the helmets remain secure on the players heads from whistle to whistle will result in a much lower head injury ratio.

I propose that instead of the NFL making hits that are part of the game illegal, they instead implement rules that force any player who’s helmet comes off during a play to leave the field to get his helmet readjusted by an NFL employed (not team employed) helmet technician. Once the helmet tech gives the green light, that player can re-enter the game.

However, that’s just my opinion and apparently the NFL is more focused on fundamentally changing the way the game is played than focusing on the instruments that are already in place to make the game safer. Then again, that’s why NFL stands for No Frickin Logic.

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