Honestly, I’m very thankful that the National Football League is cracking down on banned hits to the head and neck. And I’m hopeful that the NFL’s competition committee will change the rules to ban all hits using the helmet when they meet in the off-season.
Why do I feel strongly enough to blog about this for the diet/exercise site? Well, let’s start with my 13-year-old next door neighbor, Ben. He’s just started playing football this year at his middle school, being tabbed to play tight end and kicker. (His parents and I are secretly happy that about the kicker position since it could keep him out of the line of fire if he continues playing.) But I’m still worried the massive hits by NFL players, like Ben’s beloved Houston Texans, will influence his and his peers’ style of play if they continue to play at the high school and college level. You might suggest that I’m naïve in considering this influence, but that’s not the case. I got a first-hand look at the power of football while attending Permian High School, which is the school depicted in both the book and television show “Friday Night Lights.” I can remember the football-crazed fans that followed not only the exploits of the Panthers, but also of Texas Tech University Red Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys. And the cheers of “Hit ‘em again, hit ‘em again, harder, harder" still echo in my memory.
Well, it turns out that those hits, especially using the head or to the head, can lead to concussions and worse. The Houston Chronicle has been running a series this week that puts those hits into perspective. As part of the series, columnist Jerome Solomon described the decision by the NFL to step up enforcement of current rules and suspend players who violate the rules on illegal hits (whether intentional or not) as “long overdue.” He wrote, “Violent hits are more dangerous than ever because the players are bigger, faster, stronger. (Texans linebacker Brian) Cushing, who is listed at 6-3, 262 pounds, is faster than most running backs were in the 1960s and ‘70s and as big as many of the great linemen who played into the 1980s, the decade he was born.” Noting that some of the players are not sure they can change their game, Solomon quotes Cushing as saying, “Ever since we were young playing this game, we’re taught to be violent. It’s one of those things that you’re taught from a young age, and then all of a sudden one day someone tells you can’t do that? It’s a technique you’ve used for 14, 15 years, and someone saying it’s illegal now? As a defensive player, you go for the big hit. You look for the big hit. You look forward to it.”
And what can that big hit bring? The Chronicle also talked to numerous former players who used to play for the Houston Oilers. The reporters tried to contact 54 former players. Of those, 26 said they had not experienced dementia or other memory-loss issues while 18 couldn’t be reached for comment. However, several who were contacted reported memory loss. One had a brain tumor that doctors said was football-related while another was suffering seizures and blackouts. Gregg Bingham, who led the league in tackles for 11 straight years, suffered a near-fatal stroke. Chronicle reporters also talked to wives who had been affected by their husbands' football-related mental illnesses.
And how can these injuries be stopped? In an article by David Barron, suggestions include using fundamentals of blocking that players learn in high school and college. Following college and high school rules, which are more stringent, are recommended. These rules include not leading the head on offense and defense and not lowering the head to make or ward off a tackle. In addition, the NFL is considering eliminating the three-point stance. Other suggestions include practicing several days a week without helmets, adjusting drills accordingly, and requiring NFL players to wear hip pads, thigh pads and elbow pads.
If you’re a parent of a football player or even a fan of football, I’d encourage you to read the Chronicle’s series. It’s an eye-opening and worrisome account of what football’s become, and a sobering description of the cost to yesterday’s great NFL players.
Published On: October 29, 2010