As a high school football coach, I have one golden rule I tell my players: Go 100 percent or find yourself on the bench.
Sure, this golden rule helps win ball games, but that is not the main motive. More importantly, it prevents injuries.
Not to say that players who go 100 percent don’t get injured. Football is a rough game, but so is gymnastics. You wouldn’t see a gymnast doing the parallel bars confused or out of focus, and you shouldn’t see a football player confused and without focus on the field.
A baseball player can get away with taking a play off. Many soccer and hockey players spend a good portion of the game watching. But in the two most serious injury sports, football and gymnastics, confusion or taking it easy can lead to ligament damage, permanent paralysis, or even death.
Aaron Kampman suffered a concussion two weeks ago against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The NFL should’ve made a mandatory rule that anytime a player has a concussion, that player is held out a minimum of four games. They do this for drug use, so why not another brain-damaging intervention?
Although Kampman didn’t have a second concussion against the 49ers, experts agree that a concussion can "play games" with the mind long after its occurrence, which can lead to another concussion or the inability of the brain to process the split-second decision-making needed in the ultra-fast NFL, thus resulting in injury.
So on Sunday against the 49ers, it didn’t surprise me to see Kampman carted off the field with a season-ending injury: torn knee ligaments. I like Kampman. Nobody can question his dedication to the game and his leadership. I felt bad for him not because he was going to miss the season, but because it could very well jeopardize his NFL career—and it didn’t need to be this way.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson is supposed to be an expert in NFL-related decision-making. Along with the coaches, they should’ve concluded that Kampman couldn’t play linebacker when they decided to switch to a 3-4 despite the fact that he is an excellent football player.
Although Kampman struggled the second half of last season in a 4-3, the Packers could’ve received a high draft pick or at least a decent offensive guard if they traded Kampman, but the trade deadline passed without even a sniff.
By trading Kampman to a 4-3 defensive team, the Packers could’ve saved Kampman’s NFL career and prevented his first concussion.
Why they kept him in a 3-4 defense is a great wonder, especially considering the fact that rookie linebacker Brad Jones performed better replacing Kampman against Dallas, and Kampman looked disoriented in his new position, not to say he didn't give a 100 percent effort. While observing the first Vikings game, my wife watched Kampman and said, “That guy looks confused."
Kampman doesn’t have a linebacker’s body, flexibility, closing speed, and versatility. His karaoke skills are awkward at best, and the only change of direction he needed to worry about as a defensive lineman was extending his body to stop the run. He looked awkward, confused, and as a result, dangerous—not only for his own sake, but for the other players on the field.
A confused player is not going 100 percent on the football field. Injury, whether for him or other players, is inevitable. I compare it to a squirrel stopping and shifting in the middle of the road while a text-messaging teenage driver is burning rubber towards it and kids are playing ball in the front yard. Confusion with high-speed power potentially impacts everyone in its vicinity.
Thompson, a linebacker himself, should’ve known this. He should’ve traded Kampman because Kampman couldn’t maximize his potential in the Packers' 3-4 defense, especially considering the fact that Kampman was in the last year of his contract.
Not only do/did the Packers miss out on a good offensive lineman or, at the least, a competent nickel back, but now they have jeopardized Kampman’s career and well-being by forcing him into a position he had no business playing. Why? To appease the Packer faithful who adore Kampman? There is no sound reason considering Kampman's poor performance in the 3-4.
Football players know the risk. Yet Kampman didn’t have a choice when he was penciled in as the starting left-side linebacker, and he should’ve. Perhaps Kampman can recover and finally get his wish to play in a more suitable 4-3 defense.
More importantly, we can only hope that Kampman’s concussion, a concussion prompted by poor personnel decisions on Thompson’s part, doesn’t have lifelong ramifications for Kampman.