What Does the NFL Have to Do to Make American Football Safer?

The recent awareness of the long term damage that concussions can have on American football players has led many people to state unequivocally that the American brand of football is doomed.

Whether that is the case or not, we feel that it is in everyone’s interest to talk about more changes the league and similar leagues can make to make the game safer.

The Allure of Gaming

We live in the most affluent times in human history.  Average people have more disposable income and more free time than in any era in our entire history.  This has led many people to embrace gaming as a pastime.

There are many different ways to play games.  We can go to the gym or the ball field and play with other people.  However, even supposedly benign games like racquetball or squash use a relatively hard ball that can cause damage if it hits you in the head after being hit hard.

The only truly safe games are either video games or casino games.  However, a caveat is in order.  Many video games encourage young people toward violence and it is possible to overplay casino games.  Many gamers have found that playing casino games online and taking advantage of the Intertops casino bonus is a perfect way to play casino games within the parameters of responsible gaming.

The Dangers of American Football

The greatest danger for long term trouble is that a player’s head takes many blows during the course of a game.  In 2018, for the first time, the National Football League, the primary league for American style football (NFL), instituted a rule that no player could “lead” with his head.

Before this rule was enacted, all players led with their heads when running or trying to tackle an opponent.  The long term effect of such frequent blows to the head is a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE.  This condition showed up in some players within 10 years after they ended their NFL careers while with other players it didn’t show up at all.

In other words, playing football in the hard nosed style of the NFL was a form of Russian Roulette in which players took a tremendous amount of risk that they will or won’t be incapacitated in early later life.

Suicides

Some players have committed suicide as a result of the lingering effects of brain trauma.  It was the suicides plus publicity that was generated when autopsies showed CTE in many players who had died at a relatively young age.

Along with the symptoms of CTE, some players also show symptoms of ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  CTE cannot be confirmed until a player has died while ALS can be diagnosed in a living human.  The most famous person to live with ALS was Stephen Hawking.

A League in Denial

The league continues to treat talk about CTE and ALS being caused by the inherent violence of American football as wrong.  However, the league has quietly made two important changes with regard to head injuries.  The first is the rule we mentioned above about players not leading with their heads.

As good as helmets are today, they still are not good enough to overcome the blows every player takes to his head in every game.  Before modern helmets were developed, players naturally protected their heads since the older helmets were basically made of thick leather.

There is apparently more risk to players from the alleged safety they feel from using modern helmets as opposed to the obvious risk that wearing softer helmets entailed.

The second change the league has imposed on itself is called the concussion protocol.  A player who used to “have his bell rung” is now taken out of a game so a neurologist can examine him.  If he shows signs of a concussion, he cannot go back into the game and many have to sit out more than one game until he gets medical clearance to play again.

The rule against leading with one’s head is a good start but it doesn’t address the inherent violence in American football.  In every highlight reel, we see players’ heads hitting the ground very hard after a tackle.  Do these blows also lead to CTE or ALS?

When Will Football End?

Will parents continue to let their kids play high school or college football?  Will young athletes themselves continue to play American football?

There are at least fifty deceased former players who were found to have CTE after their deaths.  The number who didn’t have an autopsy to determine if they had CTE may be in the hundreds.  There are many hundreds of former players who today complain about CTE or ALS symptoms.  Many players are involved in a class action suit against the NFL hoping to receive some compensation for their suffering.

What Can the NFL Do?

Here are a few changes the NFL can make to alleviate the risk players have from debilitating brain injury later in life.  If the NFL adopts these changes, high schools and colleges would likely follow suit and the game would become a lot safer for players.

The first is to eliminate the three-point stance.  This is the position offensive and defensive linemen take before the ball is snapped.  It puts every lineman’s head in danger immediately after the snap.  Many players never get a concussion but sustain hundreds of sub-concussive blows to the head simply because they began the play in a three-point stance.

The second action the league can take is imposing long term suspensions on players who violate a strict protocol of non-violent violence that is designed to protect players’ heads.  The league and most players have never embraced this idea because it would harm the player’s career and damage his teams’ chances in that season.

A third idea is to enforce non-contact practice time.  The thinking here is that many of the sub-concussive blows players get come in practices.

Prognosis

It may take a generation to see a major change in the number of football players.  It may start in high school as players simply stop playing football.  That would mean a lot fewer players for college programs so some if not many college programs would close.  This would lead to fewer players available to play pro football.

However long it takes, we are sure that American football circa 2050 will be quite different than the game as it is today.

AFI
American Football International is your source for news and updates about American Football outside the United States!
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