Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The NFL and Concussions

It’s been a focal point for the National Football League the past several years; particularly becoming a focus by the NFL Player’s Association with brain trauma and healthcare benefits for retired players suffering from mental disorders due to the violent nature of the NFL.

This past weekend brought the discussion back to the forefront, as players across the NFL suffered concussions from extreme hits to the head. There are concussions in every game, every week, but this week featured more of the violent type.

In response to the hits on Eagles’ WR DeSean Jackson, Browns’ WR’s Joshua Cribbs & Mohamed Massoqui, Ravens’ TE Todd Heap and others… the NFL has been outspoken on their commitment to harsher penalties of offenders who commit blatant hits like these. There has been outcry in favor of this as we all want players to be protected and safe, but at the same time, people fear it will bring down the level of big hits (even legal) that we’ve grown to love in this game.

The NFL has made it clear that accidental hits likely won’t result in the more severe punishment, but a lot of people wonder how you can determine just how intentional some of these shots are. I still go back two years ago when the Jets were hosting the Cardinals and Anquan Boldin suffered a broken sinus cavity that required surgery after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Jets S Leonhard. Boldin leapt into the air in the endzone and Leonhard committed to his hit when Boldin was shoved from behind and the two collided. Had Boldin not been hit from behind, Leonhard probably would have connected with Boldin’s abdomen which is where players are taught to hit. Nevertheless, the hit occurred and Leonhard was suspended.

The Robinson-Jackson hit was frightening, but while you want to believe Robinson had another choice, keep in mind Jackson is one of the fastest players in the league running full speed and has his hands on the football… Robinson’s reaction was to hit. He took bad form regardless, but if he doesn’t even commit to that hit, Jackson’s almost sure to burst past the defense for a huge gain and/or touchdown. It was an ugly hit, and Robinson may have been able to do more, but this leads me to another offender this weekend, James Harrison.

As Harrison said of his hits after the game, “It’s full speed in the game” and this is the part players all over, past and present try to express. Running full speed, two players head on… you’re going to get a bunch of these. Harrison did lead with his helmet, that is evident, and he’ll need to learn from that… but what he’s expressing is that it’s not always a matter of fault, rather a matter of natural occurrence.

Then you get the clearly blatant and dangerous hit via Brandon Meriweather of the New England Patriots on Todd Heap. Heap was in the air trying to make a catch and being brought down when Meriweather launched with his helmet to the facemask of Todd Heap. Heap lay on the ground for several moments before making his way to his feet. Meriweather didn’t just show disregard for Todd Heap, but also a rule against hitting a defenseless (turned around or in the air) receiver with your helmet. While Harrison’s hits looked blatant, the do fall under the category of at full speed… Meriweather’s hit was an act of intent, and an act that should and probably will result in a suspension by the National Football League.

These are the hits the NFL needs to be strict about; players shouldn’t worry about those big hits. And if a big hit which isn’t violating any of the already stipulated rules results in a punishment, then we’ve got something about which we’ll need to discuss in depth. Until then, let’s keep football physical, but play with concern for the safety of not just your teammates, or yourself, but your opponents as well. Injuries and concussions ARE a part of the game… but if they’re the result of intentional rule-breaking hits… avoidable hits… the game isn’t good for players, coaches, owners, representatives, or fans. 

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