The need to raise player safety

Football needs to solve its issues, and fast


In what is now an infamous moment in NFL lore, Browns end Myles Garrett (95) took the helmet off of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2), and swung it at his head, resulting in a direct blow. Garrett was suspended indefinitely, and many other suspensions were issued. Photo by Creative Commons.

Logan Moseley, Staff Reporter

Football was my favorite sport growing up as a kid. Back in the renaissance days of Nebraska Football that featured the likes of Prince Amukamura, Taylor Martienez, Ameer Abdullah and Ndumakung Suh, the team made me fall in love with the game. Once my parents saw the love I had for the game, they put me in YMCA flag football, and although all I wanted to do then was play tackle football, I know now that the decision to make me wait until middle school paid its dividends.

The National Football League is the biggest football league in the world; back in the 70s and 80s is when it really grew. The vaunted defenses of the Vikings Purple People Eaters, the Rams Fearsome Foursome and most notably the Steelers Steel Curtain, which helped the Steelers dynasty. These teams would terrorize their opponents, with a dreaded one two punch of a solid defensive front seven and a great secondary. There was no remorse for the offense. Concussions were a regular, and that has led to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, better known as CTE, and while not too much is known about CTE, we know it is caused  by repeated blows to the head, and eventually will kill someone.  

Even players serving out the hits had to face the consequences. Hailed as the greatest defensive player of all time, Lawrence Taylor fell into drug and prostitution after he retired, and while we do not know if he has CTE (because that is diagnosed after death), his fall from grace could lead some to believe not even the defense was safe. 

The NFL saw this problem and took precautionary measures to keep the players safe, but there is still debate if the NFL has done enough. The first major change in player safety was in the 40s when they made helmets mandatory. Ten years later, they required facemasks. It seems crazy to not wear a helmet nowadays, but the league didn’t have much funding nor was the technology relevant. The league was such a “tough guy only” game that players were insulted as weak if they used equipment. 

The next change involved the Fearsome Foursome and their head man Deacon Jones. He was one of the most talented players ever, and quite possibly the smartest. Jones read the rules well enough to find a loophole, and he used that loophole to slap players in the face as the ball was snapped to get to the backfield quicker. After his retirement, this was banned, but countless players that he lined up against would suffer from head trauma of all sorts. Then in 1979, the NFL banned using a helmet as a weapon, and back in 2019 it was enforced as Browns end Myles Garrett used it to attack Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph

After the helmet weapon rule, there weren’t many new rule changes in general, but in 2009, the NFL knew the growing backlash on CTE needed to stop, and they made huge changes that would impact the NFL landscape forever. 

To try and prevent concussions, the NFL added four major rule changes: the blindside block, helmet to helmet, the wedge block and no longer being able to clump five or more players together on kickoffs. They also added in a new rule where, if a player had contact initiated to the head or neck area, they would be out of the game to be examined for a concussion; it used to be a player had to be knocked out in order for them to be out of the game. To prevent any players going in during close games, an independent trainer would be added to review all concussions. A blindside block would be blocking a defenseless player in the head or neck area or in a violent manner. The rule has worked well and has really helped. The Helmet to Helmet rule is one that would work well in theory but has kinda flopped. While there is usually a fine for a hit like that, these players make millions of dollars, and only get fined thousands of dollars, so there is not much of an incentive to not take those hits. Either raise the fine, or give an automatic four game suspension. As for wedge blocks and the clumping, these can be solved by getting rid of the kickoff, and the NFL has thought about axing the onside kick and replacing it with a 4th & 15. While there seems to be no end in sight for kickoffs and punts, it is also less regulated, so perhaps the NFL could propose more 

The progress in concussion prevention has led to a lower rate of concussion. A study published in sports health had shown that during two six year periods, the concussion rate did go down from .42 to .38 concussion per game, a 7.6% decrease. Those studies took place from 1996-2001 and 2002-2007, so the data is a little bit old, but the NFL does provide concussion data from 2012-2020, and have yet to finish the 2020 season. If the data from the 2014-2019 seasons are used for more relevant data, it showed on average that there were 8.7 concussions per season from practice, and practices can range from team to team and age to age, while there were on average 150.8 concussions per season, which is .59 concussions per game. It has gone up, which is a huge red flag. The game is becoming more hard hitting, and the NFL’s rules, simply put, are not working. 

The NFL should not add an extra game like with what just happened. The move is money driven,and the players have complained about it already and it adds an extra chance for a catastrophic injury to occur. Next, they should have a neurologist on the field to review concussions. While the neutral trainer provides a competitive aspect to the game, safety is the priority, and that should be the gold standard. Another rule that should be enforced is that any player that makes contact with the head or neck area should be ejected from the game, no matter the position. That is already a rule, but after Rams quarterback John Wolford was sent to the hospital after a scary hit against the division rival Seahawks, there was no foul nor ejection. The officials should also make any contact to the head  a 20 yard foul, the largest non-pass interference foul ever given, quarter long ejection, and mandatory council on how to tackle with force, but without the potential injury.

While the NFL has a reputation to fix, and players to get in better shape, it is not unfixable, but it is becoming a much harder problem to erase.