The NFL’s Lip Service to Safety

An Eagles player turns himself into a missile

By David Croushore

This week, the NFL finally made a reasonable gesture with respect to player safety.  However, the crackdown on brutal hits is only a good start in the fight for player safety that must continue.

As Greg Easterbrook of ESPN is quick to point out, the NFL must make efforts to promote the safety of its players, not simply for the players’ sake, but for the sake of the majority of football players, high school and college athletes who will never make a dime from athletics.  These young players stand to lose much more in the event of an injury than they can ever gain.  Head and neck injuries are particularly dangerous for young athletes, as concussions have been shown to cause more long term harm when sustained before the brain has fully developed.

The NFL’s crackdown on illegal hits last week has already shown positive effects on player conduct, as multiple players this week shied away from unnecessary, brutal contact during games; however, the NFL still refuses to make player safety a serious priority by allowing players to use substandard equipment.  Helmet makers have produced multiple helmet models that have been shown to decrease the risk of concussions, but the NFL still allows players to use outdated models.  Players opt for these unsafe helmets for a variety of reasons.  While awareness of the risk of concussions has increased, many players are still not fully aware of the severity of the risk to which they expose themselves.  Safer helmets are larger and less comfortable, and players often opt for the better-looking and more comfortable models, despite the trade off in safety.  If the NFL mandated the use of safer helmets, college and high school players would follow suit.

Football, like many sports, remains a valuable way to educate young people about teamwork, discipline, dedication, and perseverance, but the potential risk of serious injury is not a worthwhile trade-off.  In 1905, president Theordore Roosevelt convinced early football programs to change the rules of play in order to make football safer, so there is precedent in football for rule changes in the name of safety.  As scientific knowledge of the risk of football related injuries has improved, it has become apparent than more change is necessary.

Helmets with a hard outer shell feel like weapons, so it is unsurprising that players wearing these helmets use them as such, turning themselves into missiles and aiming to inflict pain on their opponents.  Helmets with a soft outer shell have been used by NFL players Mark Kelso and Steve Wallace, both all pro players who put their own safety above aesthetics.  Such helmets should be adopted universally to promote player safety and discourage the tendency to use helmets as a weapon.

Other changes should be considered in the name of safety.  Mouth guards have been shown to reduce concussion risk, but the NFL does not promote the use of the highest quality mouth guards.  Again, were NFL players to use safer mouth guards, college and high school athletes would follow suit.  The football facemask, an iconic part of the modern game, is also an outdated technology.  Not only do facemasks provide the opportunity for players to find a hold on an elusive runner, exposing that player to potential neck injury, the related penalty often has an unnecessary effect on the outcome of games.  Clear plastic face guards, like those used in hockey, could reduce the risk of such injuries while eliminating the need for facemask penalties.  This change would benefit the sport in terms of both safety and competitive fairness.

The NFL’s crackdown on unnecessary brutality is a good start, but more change is needed.  If the NFL is serious about the safety of its players, and more importantly the safety of amateur athletes across the country, it must take all available steps to make the game safer.  Equipment improvements and rules changes are necessary.  Until they are adopted, the NFL is merely paying lip service to safety.  Football is a dangerous sport, and the risk of injury will never be eliminated, but the long term consequences of orthopedic injuries pales in comparison to the risk posed by neurological injuries.  An increased focus on safety would have a lasting, positive effect on the game, and our society.

David Croushore is a consulting professional and an MBA student at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.  He has been featured in a New York Times’ bestselling book on leadership and communication and is an avid fan of the Philadelphia Eagles.

The posts on this page are contributed by students from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business in conjunction with the newly launched Center for Social Value Creation. The center's mission is to develop leaders with a deep sense of individual responsibility and the knowledge to use business as a vehicle for social change. These posts are a way to continue the dialogue outside of the classroom and share the viewpoints of Smith students on the challenges and opportunities of triple bottom line thinking.

2 responses

  1. A standardized pre season evaluation of the head neck and jaw used by the N.E. Patriots should be mandated.
    Playing football with a boxers “Glass Jaw” is not a good idea. Developed with Marvin Hagler, he never got ko’d, never!!!!
    The Patriots have the lowest concussion rate annually, Merriweather and other are educated about this prior to the season and make the choice on there own. They have a distinct advantage wearing these medical devices and it showed when both Heap and Mason were ko’d. The hit on Edelman by Lewis rung his bell because Edelman choses to wear a ten dollar guard, that will change this week, the trainers will make sure of it. Let me know if your interested in a story, See links
    http://www.mahercor Traumatology%20Publi cation.pdf Traumatology%20Publi cation.pdf
    http://fourthandgoa 21/nfl-and-nfl-playe rs-association-ne 21/nfl-and-nfl-playe rs-association-ne
    ed-to-mandate-the- use-of-mouth-gaurds/
    http://fourthandgoa 24/why-is-the-mouth- guard-not-a-manda 24/why-is-the-mouth- guard-not-a-manda
    tory-piece-of-equi pment-in-the-nfl/
    http://www.kansasci 52026/cassels-secret -weapon-against.h 52026/cassels-secret -weapon-against.h
    http://www.usajunio /USAJHM_Sept_09_12_2 4.pdf /USAJHM_Sept_09_12_2 4.pdf

  2. Why continue the same old approach if the situation continues to get worse?
    What has to change?
    We need to consider alternatives to the same old way of looking at concussions. It is widely accepted in the medical community that the majority of concussions especially the severe ones that result in unconsciousness stem from lower jaw impacts. Yet most players leave the jaw and TMJ completely unprotected There is protective equipment for almost every joint in the body, shoulder pads, knee pads, hip pads, elbow pads, etc. But the one joint that has direct access to the brain the TMJ is left unprotected.

    We need to secure and stabilize the jaw to prevent it from slamming the base of the brain and TMJ.
    Boxers know the easiest way to knock out an opponent or in other words “give him a concussion” is to hit him on the jaw driving the jaw bone up into the TMJ and base of the Brain.
    The thinnest bone in the body know as the Glenoid fosa separates the end of the jaw bone and the brain. It’s about the tickness of a potato chip and most athletes who have competed in contact sports have damage in this area.

    Upper only mouthguards are not doing the job.
    Studies show the majority of concussions resulting in unconsciousness, are from impacts to the jaw. Yet most football programs continue to hand out the cheap upper only mouthguards. These mouthguards offer little or no protection from this type of impact. An upper and lower mouth guard is essential in preventing jaw-related concussions, TMJ dislocation and dental trauma. Even when wearing a helmet, impacts to facemask and helmet are transmitted through the chinstrap to the TMJ and base of the skull. We spend hundreds of dollars per player on equipment and uniforms and less than one dollar to protect the teeth and brai
    Dual Arch Tecnology
    The only way to secure the jaw and protect the lower jaw from slamming the TMJ and base of the skull is with a Bi-Molar or dual Arch mouthguard. Brain-Pad has been working on this technology for over 15 years and tests have proven it can reduce impact energy from lower jaw impacts by as much as 40%. See link below.
    Bill Samuel

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