Matt HealeyFriday,23 August 2013

The Snap:

The NFL has been focusing on player safety for a few years now. Or at least they have been publicly saying they are focused on player safety. One of the main aspects of the new focus has been fining players for helmet to helmet contact. But will that make the game safer?

The Download:

There is no question in my mind that playing in the NFL will result in a greater probability of long term brain injury. Repeatedly smashing your head into hard objects will do damage. I am not sure I need a lot of science to convince me of that. There is also no question in my mind that something should be done. So the rules have changed and hitting a player high will likely result in a penalty and possibly a fine. So the question is will this approach make the game any safer? Before talking to a longer-term football fan than myself, my brother, my position was “no — all you are doing is changing the injury from brain to knee.” Since you will get fined by the NFL if you hit high, players are going to go low which will result in more torn ACL/MCL/MML/etc. This behavior was on display in the recent Miami-Houston preseason game. In this game D.J. Swearinger hit Dustin Keller in the knees. It was a legal, clean hit. It also ended Keller’s season as he suffered a torn ACL, PCL and MCL. These things happen in football, but what makes this interesting is what Swearinger said afterward.

“In this league you’ve got to go low. If you go high you’re going to get a fine.”

He went further discussing the league’s policy on hits:

“The rules say you can’t hit high so I went low. I’m sorry that happened. I would think you’d rather have more concussions than leg injuries. Leg injury, you can’t come back from that. A concussion, you be back in a couple of weeks.”

So the trend may be happening. Defensive players are going to re-train themselves to hit low to avoid fines. That will increase the number of knee injuries and potentially reduce the number of brain injuries. So I was right but also wrong, because as my brother pointed out, it is not a 1 for 1 shift. A brain injury is much worse than a knee injury, regardless of Swearinger’s opinion on the subject. Dustin Keller will still get paid his $4+ million this year. He will have surgery and may be back next year. The long term brain injuries are much more serious. Just ask Junior Seau’s family. So overall, this is a case of a few steps forward, more than two I think, and one step back.

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Hat Tips:

ESPN, The Phinsider, NFL.comImage Credit: Flickr

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