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    Crabby Admin Term's Avatar

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    When Safety Begets Injuries: An NFL Dilemma

    SPORTS THREAD, though dealing specifically with sports medicine, health, and the human body.

    This current week in the NFL saw a large amount of key injuries to star players. Guys like Jay Cutler, Reggie Wayne, Sam Bradford, and most notably Jermichael Finley who suffered a serious injury to his spinal cord in his neck which resulted in him being held in the ICU. They are simply the latest in what is an epidemic this year with injuries; a year which saw the most players ever suffering season-ending injuries in the pre-season.

    Immediately when looking at those facts one may be tempted to simply dismiss this as a "bigger, stronger, faster" argument, in that never before have athletes been in better shape with which to deal significant punishment to the opposing players. This has been a constant platform with which many injuries appear to be kept underneath, a throwaway line in order to explain that the NFL and the Player's Union are doing everything they can in order to protect these athletes.

    To an extent that's true. Unlike in years past athletes today are expected to train year-round. The notion of a simply 25-week season including pre- and post-season is a fallacy considering all the work these guys put into staying in shape and in some cases rehabing injuries from a previous season. However, there's a deeper issue that I feel is ignored in favor of this mentality that has come at the price of the greater awareness of certain injuries such as concussions.

    Concussions have been a plague for football players. A cause of deteriorating mental health which had been left undiagnosed or untreated for decades. Recently, the NFL settled a class-action lawsuit brought on by former players who felt that they were not properly warned or given information about concussions which the NFL admittedly knew was a large issue with player health but hid the results of internal studies from players and tried to sweep the issue under the rug. Today, many studies on the brains of former NFL players have found links to the head trauma sustained during their careers with behavioral and cognitive issues later in life, and may have led to depression, dementia and Alzheimer's in these players.

    So needless to say, the NFL was forced to address these issues. New rules were put in place which have made any inkling that a defensive player was attacking an opponent's head or neck to be a 15-yard penalty in-game combined with significant monetary fines and suspensions outside of the game. Helmet-to-Helmet contact was banned. The kickoff to start each half and to resume play after scoring plays was moved from the 30-yard-line to the 35-yard-line which has led to less and less kick returns, with the ball sailing out-of-bounds and play resuming on the opponent's 20-yard-line. Two-a-day practices during the preseason have been banned. Teams only have a limited number of practices during the preseason in which they are allowed to have full contact, with some teams opting to have no full contact practices at all this year. Further restrictions were made towards how Organized Team Activities (OTAs) were to be handled during the off-season to reduce physical contact which could lead to injuries.

    One would assume these measures would have increased player safety and allowed for fewer injuries, specifically to the head. What we've seen instead however is the rise of the ACL tear, a ligament in the knee, which spells the end of a season for a player since the recovery time from surgery and rehab to repair the tear takes roughly 6-8 months. Many, including myself, have speculated that the main reason why this is happening is because of the focus the NFL is placing on hits to the head which has forced players to tackle lower, and lower on the body. Cut-blocks have remained a staple of NFL offensive-line play, and specifically with running-backs who are pass-protecting, which for those unaware, is when a player dives at another player's legs to trip them up and force them to the ground.

    From talking with older players, many have expressed that before the late 90s, it was an unwritten-rule amongst players that they would never attack another player's legs. This was specifically because the legs of an athlete are gold. Their careers hang on the ability for them to be able to stand, run, and jump. Many have expressed that if they had the choice of being given a concussion or an injury to their legs, they'd take the concussion, hands-down. Today, because of the rules, players have no other choice but to aim below the waist in order to effectively do their jobs without risking the chance of a penalty or fine against them.

    And even with these measures to curb concussions, they still happen on a regular basis. Nick Foles, quarterback for the Eagles, recently suffered one this past week not from contact with another player, but contact with the ground. Jay Cutler had suffered a similar injury several years ago when he was tackled and his head made contact with the ground. Other concussions have been sustained from incidental contact with other players.

    Another theory which has risen given the increased number of injuries on seemingly innocuous plays has been due to the fact that players aren't being introduced to hitting earlier on during the preseason. Muscles are built through adaptation, namely that when working out or engaging in intensive activity, micro-tears are created in the muscle fibers of the human body which are repaired through nutrient intake by not only rebuilding the lost tissue but also adding further layers of tissue on-top to help prevent future tearing. This in-turn builds stronger, more resistant muscles. This concept is being directed towards the kinds of injuries we're seeing today. Because players aren't hitting each other as often and their physical activity is being limited more and more every year, the chances of injury are actually being increased rather than decreasing. Awareness of injuries therefore, have become a detriment to the overall health of a player as opposed to helping us devise solutions in order to make the game safer.

    But what do you think? Is there any way that the NFL can help improve player safety? Do you believe that the limiting of physical activity and contact has actually created a less safe environment for players to play the game? Has the league perhaps gone too far with its emphasis on safety or not far enough?

    tl:dr, despite their best efforts, the NFL is seeing a record number of serious, season-ending injuries this year. Are they to blame for focusing too much on safety that they've made the game more dangerous in the process?

  2. #2
    Senior Damian's Avatar
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    I think the only time that there will be hardly any injuries from football is if we resorted to flag-football. That's my honest opinion really.

    It's great and all that the NFL is wanting to make the sport safer but I just don't think that's possible. It was really shitty of the NFL to keep the risks of concussion under the rug. I mean, it's kind of expected but probably not at the scale as what people think.

    The tricky thing is trying to decide which injury is objectively the "better" alternative overall. Like, which is more important? The athlete's mental well-being a decade down the line or physical injuries that may or may not leave them permanently crippled with the wrong hit?
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  3. #3
    Junior Pogonip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Term View Post
    One would assume these measures would have increased player safety and allowed for fewer injuries, specifically to the head. What we've seen instead however is the rise of the ACL tear, a ligament in the knee, which spells the end of a season for a player since the recovery time from surgery and rehab to repair the tear takes roughly 6-8 months. Many, including myself, have speculated that the main reason why this is happening is because of the focus the NFL is placing on hits to the head which has forced players to tackle lower, and lower on the body. Cut-blocks have remained a staple of NFL offensive-line play, and specifically with running-backs who are pass-protecting, which for those unaware, is when a player dives at another player's legs to trip them up and force them to the ground.
    lol, wasn't there a South Park episode about this once?

    Anyway, I guess it's a weird trade off that's happened though, giving someone a concussion vs breaking their legs. Player safety in any sport is really hard to regulate, anything can happen and you can't plan for it. In contact sports it's inherit that you have a risk of injury, everyone knows that, but yeah it's possible that the new rules could have forced players to use even more "dangerous" techniques.

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    Sophomore Matt's Avatar

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    To be honest, ever since I saw League of Denial, I've mostly stopped watching football. The NFL sitting on data, trying to discredit medical experts, and deliberately lying to their players for the sake of PR is pretty revolting. Today was the first time in months that I watched a majority of a game, and I was at Lambeau Field, so it was difficult to avoid. Malcolm Gladwell predicted that, with parents now being more aware of injuries and the restrictions placed on youth leagues, that the NFL could be gone within 30 years. There isn't going to be enough talent to restock the cupboard. He may or may not be right, but I would not be sad to see it go. That'd be the most graceful way for it to die out anyway.

    In the mean time, I find it hard to believe that injuries will decrease to any extent as long as a hard hit is generally perceived as a good thing: it getting replayed on Sportscenter, "sounds of the game" replaying the moment where the mic picked up the running back vomiting up his kidneys, FaceBook comments decrying how the game is being "pussified." As long as people want to see carnage, carnage will happen. Carnage causes injuries. There are holes in every countermeasure.

    My biggest concern is that the injury problem is not just an NFL problem. High school kids and younger face these same risks with less-developed bodies and lesser medical staff/precautionary measures. This is a bigger problem than Gronk getting his knee shattered or Rodgers breaking his collarbone. The old dudes on NFL Films always say things like "Football is a violent game. You can't have football without violence." Maybe we shouldn't have football then.
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Term View Post
    Many, including myself, have speculated that the main reason why this is happening is because of the focus the NFL is placing on hits to the head which has forced players to tackle lower, and lower on the body.
    Except that's how you're supposed to tackle in the first place, take this from a former high school football player. You aren't tackling correctly in the first place if you're going for the head and shoulder area.

    Look, the only way you're never going to get injured in football is if you don't play. Not to be said that the NFL shouldn't make strides and player safety (which they have, especially in the helmet department, we are a WAY long way from leather helmets nowadays), but you're never going to prevent EVERY concussion, every torn ACL, every other injury. It's wishful thinking, but it will never happen.

    The players should know the risk of playing this sport, and every sport has a physical risk of some type. I knew the risk of playing football my sophomore year of high school, and I still ended up with a dislocated elbow. Did I blame the sport or others for being too aggressive? Hell no, I didn't blame anybody and I just focused on getting it better in time for next season.

    However the point about getting the players more accustomed and trained for physical contact is a great one. There are thousands of ways to hit a person in this sport without injuring them, and the only way to know those ways is to practice, practice, practice. Practice the tackling form against dummies and live players until you're able to tackle without posing a risk to yourself or others. Head up, knees bent, arms out like an airplane, and wrap up (oh gosh this is bringing back memories).
    Last edited by RX-149Dragonite; 12-23-2013 at 11:23 PM.

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    Sophomore Matt's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by RX-149Dragonite View Post
    (which they have, especially in the helmet department, we are a WAY long way from leather helmets nowadays)
    It's interesting you mention that point, because it kind of ties into Term's original question. There's a school of thought that says losing the leather helmet has actually increased the risk of head injuries because people are now more liable to tackle with their head. It's the same way that boxing became more dangerous once they introduced padded gloves instead of bare fists. No one went for head shots bare-knuckled because it hurt like hell. It was all body blows, but now that gloves allowed one to inflict more damage than they took by giving head-shots, internal head injuries skyrocketed, people started dying in the ring, etc.

    Do you think we'd see targeting penalties if both players were wearing leather helmets?
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Matt View Post
    It's interesting you mention that point, because it kind of ties into Term's original question. There's a school of thought that says losing the leather helmet has actually increased the risk of head injuries because people are now more liable to tackle with their head. It's the same way that boxing became more dangerous once they introduced padded gloves instead of bare fists. No one went for head shots bare-knuckled because it hurt like hell. It was all body blows, but now that gloves allowed one to inflict more damage than they took by giving head-shots, internal head injuries skyrocketed, people started dying in the ring, etc.

    Do you think we'd see targeting penalties if both players were wearing leather helmets?
    This entire thing goes back to the main point I was making: Players shouldn't even be going for the head in the first place because it is the absolutely wrongest way to tackle, period. You'll probably miss more tackles than make them if you aim for the head and not for the hips or legs. Tackling is basically causing a person to trip over your entire body, and when you hit someone below their center of gravity chances are they're going to fall down. Hit or grab them above it and you'll probably not even be able to bring them down to one knee without help from other players. If coaches are ACTUALLY telling and teaching players to go for the head (even though these same players were probably told differently throughout their high school and college careers) then I would love to personally tackle them down the old fashioned way and show them the right way to tackle.

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    Sophomore Matt's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by RX-149Dragonite View Post
    This entire thing goes back to the main point I was making: Players shouldn't even be going for the head in the first place because it is the absolutely wrongest way to tackle, period. You'll probably miss more tackles than make them if you aim for the head and not for the hips or legs. Tackling is basically causing a person to trip over your entire body, and when you hit someone below their center of gravity chances are they're going to fall down. Hit or grab them above it and you'll probably not even be able to bring them down to one knee without help from other players. If coaches are ACTUALLY telling and teaching players to go for the head (even though these same players were probably told differently throughout their high school and college careers) then I would love to personally tackle them down the old fashioned way and show them the right way to tackle.
    I meant more in the "put a hat on the ball" kind of sense than "yeah, lets risk a neck injury and lead with the crown" type thing. My general point was that with padding the way it used to be, people would make an express effort to protect their own head while tackling. Form had less to do with it than the fact avoiding using your head meant avoiding lots of pain to yourself. That pain isn't there any more, so the natural impulse to avoid contact to your own skull at all costs isn't there any more. I have to believe that has more to do with it than James Harrison not knowing what he's doing.
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  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Matt View Post
    I meant more in the "put a hat on the ball" kind of sense than "yeah, lets risk a neck injury and lead with the crown" type thing.
    Even then there are ways to not give yourself head injuries while tackling like that.

    My general point was that with padding the way it used to be, people would make an express effort to protect their own head while tackling. Form had less to do with it than the fact avoiding using your head meant avoiding lots of pain to yourself. That pain isn't there any more, so the natural impulse to avoid contact to your own skull at all costs isn't there any more.
    I have a tough time swallowing that as truth, because even with a helmet on during a game I knew my head was in danger and I avoided putting my head in danger as much as possible during my years playing, and most of my teammates understood that too. In fact, since I went to a small school, we all played football with each other ever since our Pop Warner days to the final game of our senior year, and all of us understood from day 1 of Pop Warner that our heads aren't meant to be used to hit or to be hit.

    I have to believe that has more to do with it than James Harrison not knowing what he's doing.
    I dunno, even though I don't follow the NFL as often as I follow college ball, when I tune into a game I can usually point out multiple tackling mistakes that cost plays. I dunno what they're teaching in the big leagues, and maybe it ties into Term's point about teams having less regulated time to do full contact practice, but I don't like it.

 

 

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