By Art Stevens
Folks, I think we may very well be at a major turning point for the National Football League. The issue that it turns on is “concussions.” NFL football has always been known as a CONTACT sport. Today, it would be described more accurately as a COLLISION sport, and the result of these collisions (which cause the concussions), allegedly shows a detrimental effect on the players’ health in their later years.
This has put the NFL in what is probably the most precarious position they have ever been in. Right now, about 1,800 players have been named on about seventy separate complaints against the league, and that number is growing. Of course, some of that will turn out to be lawyers looking for a big payday, but that doesn’t really change the problem. The NFL has countered by saying they have conducted a study that says that former players live longer than men in the general population. Their study makes no mention of concussions. I’m sure NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will try, in any way he can, to diffuse the issue in the coming weeks, but believe me when I tell you that the NFL is running scared about the possibilities that exist. It will also be very interesting to see what the attitude of the player’s union will be.
I really have no idea where all of this is going. I would love it if nothing had to be done or changed. I love the NFL as it is now, but my friends, if you had a chance to see many of the retired players, along with the results of concussions and all those hard hits as I have, I think you would at least agree that something has to be done. The hard hits result mostly in physical injuries to knees, legs, shoulders, backs, and the like. I hate to say, even to myself, that we have sort of learned to live with that. (Whoa! Time out! Please reread the last sentence. Did I say ‘we’? My first reaction was to just rewrite the sentence, but it occurred to me that maybe this is one of the things that are wrong. Maybe too much is being done to please the fans, and not enough to protect the players. Obviously, they are the only ones that LIVE with it. I understand that the NFL must turn a profit, but there’s the rub. What IS that happy medium that works best for all?) True, the players chose to go into this sport, whether for money, fame, pride, or whatever. They do have to live with some of the consequences, but I have to throw the flag when it comes to head injuries.
Parents, whether they have allowed their kids to play or not, have always worried about whether their kids should be playing football from peewee to high school. The severity of an injury usually increases as the player progresses into more advanced leagues because of the size, weight, strength, quickness and speed that players develop as they grow. At the NFL level, the linemen are so strong that the collisions and the hits cause the injuries to be much more serious. I think that with the new information now available, fewer and fewer parents will allow their kids to play. I think that probably the dialogue would be something like, “You are a really good athlete. Let’s look into other NON-CONTACT sports.” It also should be pointed out that many coaches feel that kids should not play football before they are about fourteen years old, probably having to do with the brain not being fully developed.
I love football. I don’t want it to fall by the wayside. The first thing the NFL must do is to use some of its gigantic resources to develop a better helmet. I’m not a scientist, but I would think they could do more with padding of different types, inside AND out. Of course, one of the keys here is to do this without the player losing his mobility. If they can come up with any other safety measures, this would sure be the time to do them. Secondly, change whatever rules they can to reduce all injuries and then hope that they do not change the fans’ reactions to the game.
There is no doubt in my mind that the time has come: SOMETHING must be done!
If you have your own opinion or a comment on mine, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.