The biggest concern among fans over the first three weeks of the NFL season was the referee lockout. As it turns out, there are bigger problems in the sport.
Concussions have been a major topic of conversation among football executives for the past few years. Numerous former players have attempted to file lawsuits against the league due to medical concerns, as documented by NFLConcussionLitigation.com.
In response, the NFL has taken some steps to lower the probability of these injuries in the future. Some changes, like the new kickoff rule, have actually been successful. Changing the kickoff yard line forced more touchbacks, and concussions on those plays dropped 43 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to NFL.com.
Unfortunately, things seemed to take a step back as the season began this year.
As replacement referees controlled the games through Week 3, many players used the lack of authority to place bigger hits on opponents. Fines were still levied, but a few athletes still believed this was an opportunity to get away with plays that would normally be penalties or even ejections.
Last week, Oakland Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was carted off the field due to a neck injury after this devastating hit:
Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub also received a helmet-to-helmet hit that forced him to lose part of his ear lobe.
However, the common belief was that things would get better once the "real" referees returned to the field. Certainly, they would be able to restore order to the games and control the players.
That mindset was lost during the Thursday night battle between the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens. The locked-out refs returned to the field, but fans were treated to one of the most devastating hits of the season.
Browns special teams expert Josh Cribbs attempted to return a punt like he had so many previous times in his career. This time, however, he was leveled by Dannell Ellerbe so hard that his helmet came off and he appeared to be knocked out cold.
NFL.com's Greg Rosenthal reported that the team confirmed Cribbs had sustained a concussion on the play.
This event shows that the big hits are not going away any time soon. Even with rule changes and better officials, football remains a violent game that causes many injuries.
Sure, players know what they are getting into, but the league must continue to take steps to reduce the amount of head injuries that cause long-term damage. This could include rule adjustments or better equipment, but changes need to be made.
Until that point, it comes down to the fans. They must see these hits as brutal reminders of the hazards, rather than exciting moments in the game. Once we stop promoting these types of plays, the competitors will gradually avoid leading with their helmets to make the highlight reel.
Football is a great sport to watch and play. However, it is wrong to force good men to ruin their lives for our entertainment.