Concussion Discussion: 9 Solutions That Will Keep NFL Superstars Healthy

Sam KlineCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2010

WR DeSean Jackson takes  a licking that would change the NFL as we know it
WR DeSean Jackson takes a licking that would change the NFL as we know itAl Bello/Getty Images

Since Week 6 of the NFL concluded, everyone ranging from Hall-of-Fame pundits to armchair bloggers have weighed in on the concussion epidemic facing the league. In 2010, the athletes that play the game are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before. Not surprisingly, the rate of injury, especially head trauma, is something that has forced the hand of the NFL powers-that-be to make some drastic decisions that could permanently alter the professional game as we know it.

In the last couple of days, a great deal of amusement has been derived from watching journalists—many of whom have never before donned a set of shoulder pads let alone played in a competitive full-contact game—dictate how football should be played to the rest of us.

Full disclosure: My singular year of freshman high school football, by no means, makes me an expert on the brutality of the game at the professional level. But watching a bunch of talking heads taking verbal shots at Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison reeks of hypocrisy. In 2008, Harrison won AP Defensive Player of the Year for stellar play, but in 2010, he gets fined $75,000 for essentially doing the same thing?

Bone-crushing hits provide fans with some of the most visceral entertainment available. After tuning in religiously for decades and purchasing highlight videos from which the league has profited millions, we’re all supposed to suddenly feel guilty for marveling at someone knocking a ball loose from a receiver running a crossing pattern on 3rd down?

Instead of prolonging the remorse, immediate changes need to be made to the NFL so that these players won’t leave their keys in the fridge after they retire. Here are nine rule modifications that need to be installed before anyone finds further fault with the sport that has gained worldwide notoriety.

For those of you too young to remember, Mark Kelso was a safety who played in four consecutive Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills and collected 30 career interceptions. He would come to be remembered by historians less for his football abilities than for his equipment.

After suffering several concussions during the 1990 season, Kelso fitted his football helmet with an additional layer on top called the Pro Cap, a helmet attachment designed to prevent concussions. Unfortunately, Kelso was soon mocked by his teammates, opponents, and even his wife for sporting such an ugly abomination. Furthermore, the indignation Kelso suffered effectively caused the Pro Cap to be eradicated from the league as a fashion faux pas, even though it remains a legal piece of equipment today.

Kelso credits the Pro Cap for prolonging his eight-year NFL career. However, his use of this equipment makes the former Bill one of the unlikeliest pioneers in the history of the sport. 

Solution No. 1: Today’s NFL players should all be mandated to check their aesthetic egos at the tunnel and wear these helmet additions to prevent concussions and extend careers.

The most brutal hits in the NFL occur when two players are running towards each other in opposite directions, often resulting in one man getting de-cleated by the other. The only way to ensure that these types of collisions are limited is by changing the rules to forbid wide receivers, tight ends and running backs from running over the middle to catch passes.

The onus of limiting concussions appears to have fallen solely on defensive players. When factoring in the strict penalties for pass interference coupled with the tightened regulations on bump-and-run defense, it’s about time that offensive players were held to a higher standard as well.

Solution No. 2: This rule could include specific language limiting wideouts to running on only one side of a hash mark, and a 10-yard penalty would ensue if someone happens to run across both hash marks on the same play.

Solution No. 3: The offensive coordinators who call crossing patterns are as much to blame as the James Harrisons of the league. If a wideout runs one of these controversial routes, he should be penalized, the offending coach who called the pattern should be fined $75,000 for putting the player at risk, and the quarterback who “hung his receiver out to dry” with the pass over the middle should be suspended for the following game.

During each NFL Rookie Symposium, first-year players should be sat down by teams of astrophysicists and be made to watch The Matrix trilogy. For those who haven’t seen this series of groundbreaking films, Keanu Reeves turns into a superhuman alter ego, essentially dodges bullets and turns into a master of mixed martial arts by, ahem, slowing down time and space while evading projectiles hurtling towards him at all angles.

Pundits are piling on defensive players for laying into defenseless receivers when they bobble a ball thrown to them. The wideout may be at fault for dropping the ball, but the linebacker or safety gets penalized and often fined for ensuring that the pass floating in mid-air does not get caught by the receiver. Forget that the long-standing rule of tipped passes clearly states that pass interference is irrelevant once a ball is batted. In light of these regulations, the defenders should be better able to stop on a dime, and change direction in mid-air while contorting their bodies when they’re running full speed into a ball carrier.

If said linebackers and safeties could just forget everything they learned about playing defense since high school, dismiss the notion of playing until the whistle blows, and instead give the receivers they’re supposed to defend a chance to make a play on a tipped pass, then the NFL game would certainly improve.

Solution No. 4: When a ball is tipped and is floating in mid-air, the defenses may only yell and wave their arms in an effort to distract the receiver from making the catch. Any contact, even inadvertent, should result in an immediate ejection for the defender and a $75,000 fine.

Part of the problem of the NFL today is that everyone is bigger, stronger and faster than in years past, when concussions weren’t on the forefront of discussion.

If we didn’t have 260-pound linebackers crashing into 270-pound tight ends on every play, the laws of physics would prevent injuries from occurring as consistently. Ever notice how kids rarely get hurt playing Pop Warner football compared to the rampant rate of injury in the NFL? The reason is because the kids are a lot slower and seldom weigh more than 150 pounds soaking wet. Less velocity coupled with less weight would translate to fewer broken bones and concussions. 

Solution No. 5:  Any NFL player who begins the preseason at over 200 pounds will have until Week 1 to make weight. This includes linemen, kickers and cheerleaders.

If a player, come the first Sunday of the regular season, weighs 201 pounds or more, he shall be suspended for four games for the first offense, and then the rest of the season (playoffs included) if he weighs more than 200 pounds by Week 5.

We can’t have irresponsible weight management tainting our beloved sport. Get rid of the fatties and muscle-bound meatheads immediately.

Even the most casual football fan knows that quarterback is the most important position on the field, and that television ratings plummet when fans are subjected to watching a backup QB “manage the offense.”

To protect the NFL’s most-valued assets, changes need to be made in the rules of engagement with regards to how its signal callers are sacked.

Solution No. 6: Instead of risking a concussion to the quarterback on a brutal blindside sack, the passer is pronounced “down” when a defender places two hands on any part of the QB’s body.

Also, all rules that pertain to intentional grounding should be abolished, as a quarterback should be able to rid himself of the possibility of coming into any contact with a blitzer.

Furthermore, any offensive lineman who accidentally steps on his own quarterback’s foot during pass protection should be ejected from the game.

Last but not least, any defensive player responsible for a quarterback sustaining a grass stain on the back of his jersey should be fined $75,000, but a suspension would be a tad excessive.

Nobody is willing to admit this, but the concussion discussion stems from the fact that a high-profile Pro Bowler in DeSean Jackson was seriously injured. Although concussions have been a widespread problem in the NFL since before the AFL merger 40 years ago, the heinous act of injuring one of the game’s most skilled superstars is unforgivable.

If journeyman wideout Brandon Stokley suffered the same fate instead of the highlight-generating Jackson during Week 6, then concussions would certainly not be the hot-button issue that is being discussed ad infinitum. On a side note, Stokley has suffered at least three concussions during his football career, but you probably didn’t know that since he’s never made a Pro Bowl. Hence, a new rule should be imposed starting this week...

Solution No. 7: If any player who has been invited to attend this year’s Pro Bowl or any Pro Bowl in the past sustains a concussion from a fierce tackle, the offending defender would then sustain a lifetime ban in addition to a $75,000 fine, because the NFL needs to protect its most marketable, indispensable skill players.

The next time you’re wondering if ironman Bret Favre will finish a game and maintain his incredible consecutive games streak, even though he’s listed as questionable on the injury report, rest assured that he’ll make it through the game, and be pretty in pink to play another.

Solution No. 8: Players listed on the injury report should be made to wear a pink jersey that would indicate to defenders that, regardless of position, these players are not to be knocked down, and, regardless of position, should only be tackled via two-hand touch.

The NFL has obviously fallen in love with pink in 2010. Solution No. 8 would accomplish four objectives:

1. Protect the players recovering from injury

2. Raise breast cancer awareness in addition to the ubiquitous pink attire already on display across the league

3. Generate sales from pink non-contact jerseys to offset the lost revenue from removing all VHS and DVD copies of NFL’s Greatest Hits from the marketplace

4. Boost the NFL’s appeal to the female demographic.

Former defensive stalwarts like Ronnie Lott, Jack Lambert, Ray Nitschke, Deacon Jones, Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus and Dick “Night Train” Lane all built their intimidating reputations based on jarring hits on offensive players.

Solution NO. 9: Since these so-called “legends” have, in fact, set a horrible example for today’s linebackers and defensive backs, each of the aforementioned former athletes should have their names and busts removed from the Hall of Fame for setting an ugly precedent for today’s out-of-control players, along with, you guessed it, a $75,000 fine for misdeeds of yesteryear. The famous yellow sport coats they received upon their induction to Canton should then be sold at auction to support charities promoting concussion awareness.


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