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The Best Way To Fix The Concussion Problem? Don’t Change A Thing

The NFL rule on helmet to helmet hits states, “using any part of a players helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/hairline parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily; although such violent or unnecessary use of the helmet is impermissible against any opponent, game officials will give special attention in administering this rule to protect those players who are in virtually defenseless postures.”  After a seemingly devastating weekend for big hits that left four players with concussions and one college player paralyzed from the neck down, the NFL is looking for ways to protect their players even more.

The Steelers James Harrison received a $75,000 fine and Brandon Meriweather of the Patriots and the Falcons Dunta Robinson both received a $50,000 fine for their hits this past weekend.  Which of these hits should are considered dirty and which looked to be good hits?  Well, that depends on who you talk to.  Personally, the Meriweather hit is the only one to me that seemed to be intentionally aimed to hurt someone by launching his helmet into Todd Heaps.  With the other hits, the players led with their arms and shoulder to make the hit with what looked like no intent to harm.  Of course, depending on who you talk to and what team they are a fan of, their view point will be different, but I will offer my opinion on how to protect the players and how to justify what is a punishable hit and what isn’t.

First, the media is overreacting to what took place this past weekend because the NFL is not changing the way the players play the game.  The NFL said that they can start suspending players for helmet to helmet hits.  I have heard everything from having the players play without facemasks to wearing leather helmets.  Football is a violent game and the players know what they signed up and the risks involved.  Does that mean that we don’t protect them?  Not at all, but it also doesn’t meant that the landscape of the game should get changed.  On a local sports radio show, there was a Police Officer that called in and compared it to his job.  He said when taking the job, he knew the risk that there was a chance of being in harms way.  He knew that even with going out a bulletproof vest and a finely tuned car, that something can still happen to him.  The same can be said with NFL players and the way the league looks after them.  The players have the proper pads and high tech helmets and there are a list of rules that say what can and what can’t be done, but that doesn’t mean that injuries won’t still occur.

If the league is worried about protecting the players, then why the talks of the 18 game schedule?  Won’t that lead to more chances of injuries?  Yes, but it leads to a bigger paycheck as well.  Are they concerned about the health of the players or are they concerned about the litigations coming their way in 20 years when the players sue the league?  Lets not make the players sound like saints either because if enough money was being offered to them, we can’t act like they wouldn’t be on board for the extra games.  With players being bigger and faster today, it only causes for bigger hits and bigger collisions, so how about in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, implement  having the players give a blood test frequently to cut out the supplements being used?  The argument has been used also to get better helmets for the players, but better helmets don’t stop the concussions.  According to numerous doctor’s studies, concussions happen when the player gets hit and he stops, but his brain is still moving around hitting off of his skull.  Unless you can insert padding inside of the skull, then the additional padding in the helmets are of no use.

If the players start to get afraid to hit each other, that may only result in more injuries since they are going against the techniques they have learned since they were in Pee-Wee leagues.  The highlight hits are the ones that get the publicity but what about the continuous helmet to helmet hits at the line of scrimmage which research shows are the main cause for post career problems.  Defensive players have also said they want the protection from players such as Running Back Peyton Hillis or Hines Ward delivering the blows on them.  The only thing is that the Defensive players  aren’t defenseless and are the ones altering their bodies to make the tackles.  I wonder how an agent who has, for example, Desean Jackson as a client as well as Dunta Robinson goes about handling this situation.  He tells Jackson that he will fight to make sure he is protected but then tells Robinson that the fine wasn’t justified?

The NFL needs to keep things the way that they are right now.  The players will continue to play the same way and continue to pay the fines, while a few will be made an example of with a suspension.  The best solution I can come up with is to change the appeal process.  The way it is set up now is that Commissioner Roger Goodell is the one who levies the punishment out and if a player wants to appeal it, they go back to Goodell with it.  The league should set up an appeal committee comprised of former players and officials to review the hits in question and come up with a proper punishment.  The NFL has it right and within a few weeks, all the hype will be over with.

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I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit

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In response to “The Best Way To Fix The Concussion Problem? Don’t Change A Thing”

  1. debbie Oct 24 20109:25 am


    you make a lot of good points. this is a well written, well researched article.

  2. Christopher Rowe Oct 24 201010:01 am


    Agreed nice work… but with a few flaws in the logic. The best thing to do… suggests the writer… is to do nothing? Players making millions are not deterred by monetary fines. Doing nothing would imply checking the rules book – which the writer has done – and ENFORCING the existing rule. Ergo, “game officials will give special attention in administering this rule to protect those players who are in virtually defenseless postures.” … Meaning what exactly? Game officials are only empowered to asses penalties and in extreme cases, remove players from the game. Teams are empowered to suspend players while the league is sanctioned to either suspend o fine players.

    “The NFL rule on helmet to helmet hits states, ‘using any part of a players helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/hairline parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily; although such violent or unnecessary use of the helmet is impermissible against any opponent, game officials will give special attention in administering this rule to protect those players who are in virtually defenseless postures.”

    So my point is that doing nothing gets you the same result. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results!

    The writer states that you cannot change the helmet because you cannot pad the brain to protect against concussion thereby preventing it from sloshing around inside of the skull. While that is true, you can reduce the concussive imapct with better helmets and padding AND you CAN alter the behavior of the players. You can enforce the rules as they currently stand OR you CAN enforce the existing rules more strigently. In the early days of the NFL, virtually nothing was considered illegal. Players spiked each other with metal spikes, punched each other in their leather helmets and did everything short of whack each other with a tire iron across their facemask-less faces!

    The game evolves. It is not 1920 and we’re not talking about leather helmets! The NHL used to have no restrictions regarding headgear as recently as the 1980s but evolved for the protection of players and of the game. Hasn’t the NFL been just as proactively protective? If you want the players to survive a season, you have to offer protection. NFL Films love Vicious Deathblows 3: The Revenge but even at the School of Hard Knocks they know that you can’t let the entire population kill themselves or no one will gaduate – and that looks bad when you’ve planned a commencement ceremony!!!

    There used to be a 14-game season and a 12-game season, etc. Expanding to 18 games has benefits and detriments – so you control what is in your power to control. The NFL has bred 300-pound behemoths and it is a tackling league – good! No problem. We already know the difference between “legal” and “illegal” tackles so ENFORCE it! Illegal tackle? Out of the game, suspended game check and so long as that player is injured, the illegally tackling player remains suspended. That’s one problem solved. Now if the injured player never returns that is a secondary problem but I’ll bet the first soluion will now deter a lot of potentially devastating illegal tackles! Deterrence and enforcement are important preventative measures. Change the culture to preserve the league.

  3. Michael Waterloo Oct 24 201011:06 am


    Thank you both for the comments and opinions as the issue is one that is touchy. First, I must say i found myself laughing when i read “NFL Films love Vicious Deathblows 3: The Revenge but even at the School of Hard Knocks they know that you can’t let the entire population kill themselves or no one will gaduate – and that looks bad when you’ve planned a commencement ceremony!!!”.

    Secondly, when I say they shouldn’t do anything, i mean as in changing the game. They should always look to improve the safety of the players and new helmets would be great. The top of the line helmets they have now though, some players won’t wear them because they say they aren’t as comfy. And though the helmets will absorb some of the shock and help with the impact, it still will not stop the concussions just slightly improve the issue. But that gets us on the subject is it really that big of an issue or is it just media glorified?

    There were est. 2,100 tackles last weekend and 5 of them ended in concussions for the players. Though you would like to see it come to a point where no players will leave the game with injuries, that just isn’t realistic. Should the league enforce the rules, absolutely and with the suspension added it shows they are. But having the players alter the way they play when they have been playing this way since the early years will only lead to more injuries. Look at the replays of the hits, the only one that looked dirty was the Meriweather hit. The Robinson hit was completely legal(this coming from an Eagles fan). And yes the Fines to the players that received them don’t make much of a difference. It is equivalent to $250 dollars for a guy making 50k a year. But what about a player like Stevenson Sylvester for the Steelers who is fighting to keep his job. A 50k or 75k IS a lot to him and what if he received it for making a similar hit to that of Robinson’s or Harrison’s?

    If they start second guessing what they are doing or tackle a different way than they were taught is only asking for more injuries. Ask any player if they would rather be smacked in the head or in the knee’s risking a blown out knee and i’m willing to bet the majority will say they will take their chances in the head.

    And even though the NFL has added the games in the past, they players weren’t the physical specimens that they are now. The injuries will go up and players careers will be shortened. By the book we know what is legal and illegal but is there consistency is ruling that way?

    1. Christopher Rowe Oct 24 201011:21 am


      Always happy to encourage a spirited debate – though it seems we agree in principle! I’m not suggesting to change the way the game is played per se, I’m merely suggesting that more stringent enforcement of the rules with support of the culture of the NFL would be a more effective combination. Tackle but don’t headhunt! Defend but don’t destroy! I’m merely suggesting that if the punishment fits the crime – such as instigator sitting out until player returns from injury – players will take notice. Take away those game checks and sit them out and these athletic professionals will suddenly become spirited businessmen, lobbying to get back on the field. Simply fining them is not a disincentive for the very reason that they HAVE been bred since Pee Wee League – as you say – to tackle and play the game a certain way!

      Keep up the good work! We need talented, opinionated writers such as you on board!

  4. Michael Waterloo Oct 24 201011:30 am


    Friendly debate is always welcome and I agree with out, send a message to help clean up the intentional dirty hits and make the players realize they can’t get away with a slap on the wrist. Thanks Chris, appreciate it and look forward to another chat in the future!

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