Jeff Pearlman of SI.com has wrote an editorial delving into ways to curb the head injuries in football, more specifically the NFL. The op-ed piece is on CNN.com as well. He proposes five ideas to curb the issue;
• Change the helmets: When it comes to helmets, the clichéd belief is that the NFL needs to delve into its bag of technological tricks to come up with a safer, more secure, more layered product. That’s nonsense. In professional football, a hard hit is a hard hit, and if one’s head is jarred by a 300-pound man flying through the air at full speed, no amount of outer protection will save his brain from rattling against his skull.
• Ignore the desires of the NFL’s executives and owners: As we speak, the league and the union are fighting over various issues and trying to avoid a lockout. One of the key points is the league’s so-insanely-and-ruthlessly-greedy-it-makes-me-want-to-vomit desire to move from a 16- to 18-game regular season.
• Suspend players for the season: How about this? You deliberately use your helmet to hit an opposing player, you’re done. Season — over. Salary — lost. Is this harsh? Absolutely. Overly harsh? Probably. But the ol’ you’ll-ruin-the-game and football-is-a-violent-sport enablers need to reconsider their words and stances.
• Require trainers to have no stake in a team’s success: If the NFL genuinely wants its 32 head trainers to diagnose player injuries honestly and bluntly, it’ll insist that these men cannot benefit from a winning season (or suffer from a losing one). For example, Pepper Burruss, the Green Bay Packers’ head athletic trainer for 18 seasons, will receive not only a Super Bowl ring, but the standard financial bonuses that come along with the triumph. (For the record, Burruss has a stellar reputation, so this isn’t personal.)
• Have Ted Johnson speak to every team during training camp: From 1995-2004, Johnson was a standout linebacker for the New England Patriots. He won three Super Bowls, accumulated 763 tackles and 11½ sacks, and played in 125 regular season games.
On February 1, 2007, The New York Times ran a remarkable piece on Johnson, detailing his struggles with post-concussion syndrome and Second Impact Syndrome. According to the article, Johnson suffers from amphetamine addiction, depression and headaches. He shows early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
I happen to think he spot on about four of the five ideas, the last four. The helmet issue is something that many will debate, it is of my belief that making helmets less protective will create the opposite effect. Sure the players will not be as emboldened to throw their head around, however the lack of protection for the accidental hits via the knee or the contact with the ground after the big hits will make the head more prone to bigger injuries.
Although, to my knowledge, every NFL athletic trainer is of the best of the best and very trustworthy there is a conflict of interest. They can tell you otherwise but being an employee of a team comes with some problems. I am fully confident that the athletic trainers advise and are respected but the players wield way more power, not to mention the coaches. And, if an owner meddles in player injuries it can be even more complex. Until an athletic trainer/doctor has full autonomy in regards to medical decisions there will be issues.
The last suggestion is the best, players will listen to other players before even their own families, this is even the case all the way down to the high school level. Ted Johnson is doing and will continue to do Yeoman’s work in the area of head injuries and concussions.