On a daily basis, we as fans are bombarded with stories of concussions and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).
We hear of players who committed suicide, or we hear that X number of players joined the class action lawsuits against the NFL.
That last item seems to appear on a daily basis, and it is beginning to overload fans.
The first thing to remember is that concussions are inflicted on players by other players, not by the league office.
The great defensive players of old speak of inflicting pain on the opposing offense, trying to sap their will to play.
This mentality spread so far and was so strong that former NFL head coach and the current DC for the Redskins, Jim Haslett, actually kicked Terry Bradshaw in the head when Bradshaw lost his helmet.
When asked why he did it, he said, “I thought it was the only way we were ever going to get him off the field.”
And yet we were all shocked when a defensive coordinator (from the team Haslett coached) placed bounties on opposing players, and even told his players to “kill the head [so] the body will die.”
The lack of proper treatment came from peer pressure, not from a committee. Many former players speak of wanting to be there for their team, insisting on returning to the game, dismissing a brain injury as just having their bell rung.
In fairness, this mindset extended beyond head injuries. One of the gutsiest performances I grew up with was Emmitt Smith returning to a Monday night game with a dislocated shoulder and still running for more than 200 yards.
Many people point to this game as a sign of his greatness.
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.
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.
I cannot recall any stories from the pre-facemask days that involve a bell getting rung or broken bones. Of course, that may just be my lack of age and experience.
Former players cannot sue the league for not telling them about concussions during a time that they would have ignored the message anyway. This class action lawsuit is just a bunch of former players looking to place the blame for their problems at someone else’s feet (and maybe make a bit of cash in the process).
Because of the actions of the generation that is now in court, concussion problems are too numerous to stop at the highest levels of the game. Proper tackling form is ignored by even the best defensive players in favor of “big hits” that could knock both players out of the game.
Every highlight these days seems to include at least one poor tackle attempt. The league took the best action it could have in a bad situation by creating an education program for Pee Wee football, but it will be at least 15 years before we see the effects in the NFL.
Even then it could be diminished by players getting taught poor form at the high school and college levels.
This generation that blames the NFL for its mental health problems, caused by repeated blows to the head which they inflicted on each other and then ignored, has created a player safety problem which has no immediate solution without reforming the game of football.
I can think of three possible immediate solutions to reduce or eliminate the concussion problem created by the plaintiffs. Two could lead to a collapse of the league, and one is financially unfeasible, but they are better than nothing.
Option one: eliminate most safety equipment. Rugby is similar to football in many ways, including physicality, and does not have these same issues, without using safety gear. The idea that the armor football players wear makes them feel invincible, and therefore reckless, is certainly not far-fetched.
Besides, when was the last time a game of pickup football caused a concussion? A sprained joint, a twisted ankle, possibly a broken limb in extreme cases, but never a serious head injury.
However, asking fans to give up the big hits won’t make them happy, and that eliminates option two: changing the rules to some form of touch or flag football. Without the fans, there is no league.
Option three is probably just geek talk, and would cost billions, but might be the only option: robot football. I can’t claim full credit for this idea. I’m sure many of you blew off Star Wars entirely, and you weren’t missing much with the newer trilogy.
However, there is one scene in the second movie with a hidden nugget of future sports. What most people miss in that scene is the TVs in the background, which show the unmistakable image of a robot quarterback getting blindsided by a robot edge rusher who came free for the sack.
As bad as it is to mention sci-fi robots in a sports article, this is the position the NFL finds itself in. Crazy measures like those may be the only way to preserve football as we know it for any real length of time.
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.