“It’s important to understand that there’s a limit to how much helmets can do,” Ide continued. “And player behavior, player education, rules changes — all of those things can have as much, or more, of a benefit in reducing the risk of concussion.” “The helmet sits on the skull, and the brain moves inside the skull, and that’s actually what causes the concussion,” The first quote is from Thad Ide, vice president of research and development at Ridell. The second quote is from Mike Lovell, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Both quotes are from the Associated Press article: NFL, manufacturers agree there’s no perfect helmet This article is centred on concussions in football, but it’s important to remember that the quotes and much of the information about concussions is true for any sport.

Below is an excerpt from Bill Simmons, the Sports Guy (SG) ‘Mailbag’ of October 15, 2010 and I think it does a good job of showing the reaction of many fans to the NFL’s decision to strictly enforce the rule on tackles to the head and neck area. It mainly shows how much fans want to watch ‘the game’ – hitting, injuries and all. The NFL and NHL alike have the same problem; protecting the game and its violent nature that attracts fans while also protecting its players who keep fans around and, by being in the league, they sell jerseys, other merchandise and, of course, the huge TV contracts. The leagues also have to appease the short-sighted nature of fans who can miss a week, a month, or an entire season and can continue on with their lives – the players don’t have that luxury:

Q: Have any of the writers at ESPN actually played football? There is no way that this “too violent” issue has any legs without the constant hand-wringing by the ESPN writers. It looks like the rest of the offensive players will get to wear the same red shirts as the QB. This game is lost. You should add, “Take the OVER at all costs due to the fact that there will be poorer tackling and at least three personal foul calls for each team” to your gambling manifesto. No one tells teams, “Stop running crossing routes or seam patterns and your receivers won’t get flattened.” Complete ridiculousness. NFL is about to jump the shark.

— Rob, Bentonville

SG: Agreed. I thought this week was mildly horrifying: The NFL changed the rules on the fly without telling the players ahead of time. Don’t the players need a heads-up first? If I told my daughter, “If you hit your brother, you have to go to your room for 10 minutes” and made that the rule in our house, then she hit him and I locked her in her room for five hours, you would think I was a jerk and a bad parent. Wasn’t that the NFL with this week’s excessive fines? Now defensive players aren’t allowed to crush receivers going over the middle? Really? (Note: Only Brandon Meriweather’s cheap shot on Todd Heap was truly indefensible.) The whole thing reminds me of what happened after Janet Jackson’s nipple popped out during the Super Bowl, and everyone overreacted.

I think the NFL needed to do this, if, for no other reason, only to appease the disgruntled players who were worried that the crackdown on hits on defenceless players would put an end to hard hitting and tackling.

The NFL video in this NY Times Fifth Down blog is not only a stern warning to players, but it also shows tough contact that is not to the head. The video is 4min long and is worth watching as an education for players and fans alike.

Toni Monkovic of the the NY Times Fifth Down NFL blog looks at On Head Hits, Who’s Overreacting, N.F.L. or Players? I think James Harrison’s reaction was simply to him making a point. A lot of the discussion about “head shots” from fans and players alike is about the legality of the hit. Unfortunately, this sidesteps the issue because the current rules – or the enforcement thereof – obviously doesn’t protect players’ heads well enough. Monkovic makes several good points about how trying to prevent helmet-to-helmet hits and hits to the head will not reduce the NFL to touch football. Neither should their high salary (essentially, danger pay) mean that they should’ve understood the risks before joining the league – concussions have only been highlighted as a major concern in recent years. The NFL and NHL will have to adapt.

Not only have helmets and pads given athletes in football, hockey and other contact sports (at all levels) a false sense of invincibility, but the helmets, guards and pads that are used to protect players also make contact more intense, given the hard shell of most padding.

Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison on Football Night in Americaon NBC said what they think needs to happen to to players who make vicious or careless helmet-to-helmet hits. If you read the comments after the article on ProFootballTalk, you can see how this issue will not be quickly or easily addressed. The players have been trained/taught to hit hard and the fans want to see it.  The comments are primarily focused on the legality and eventuality of the hits in today’s game. The comments indicate that for many fans changing the way the game is played is a non-starter.

October 17, 2010 saw more violent collisions than just this one, but DeSean Jackson is a star player with obvious concussion symptoms…and it was a huge hit. It’s interesting to read some of the opinion/feedback. Hard hitting is what fans expect an enjoy now. It’s also how players get noticed by the pros, colleges, club and high school teams. The NFL cannot erase head injuries in its league without appropriate changes in the culture of the game. Beginning at the youngest level: Is the NFL too violent for its own good? The same can be said for the NHL.

NY Times again. This is an article by Stephen J. Dubner of Freakonomics fame, looking at the issue of head trauma in the NFL:Freakonomics Radio, Super Bowl Edition: What Happens to Your Head, Inside the Helmet, After a Nasty Hit? He begins by mentioning the Peltzman effect.
The NY Times has written a lot about brain injury and football. This article is a discussion about brain injury prevention in football between: Christopher Nowinski, Sports Legacy Institute and co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, Sean Morey, Executive Committee member of the NFL Players AssociationRoger I. Abrams, Professor of Law at Northeastern University, and Allen Sack, a professor in the College of Business at the University of New Haven. Can Pro Football Be Made Safe?
Hard Knocks: Does Playing in NFL Cause Brain Trauma? This is a PBS Newshour article from last year examining the affects of brain trauma on former NFL players.
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