San Francisco 49ers Feeling Helmet-to-Helmet Hits?

Joseph BurkeyAnalyst IOctober 26, 2010

Fining and suspending NFL tough guys... for being tough?
Fining and suspending NFL tough guys... for being tough?Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

The tangled web of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and the rippling effects of helmet-to-helmet collisions have already found their way into the 49ers new stadium, which of course, is not a done deal by any means yet.

This net is still quite garbled right now, so bear with me on this one.



The NFL and the Players Union should be reaching a new CBA by March 2011. Key issues will involve the NFL potentially moving towards a longer regular season, the salary cap, restricted and unrestricted free agency, regulating contracts to high-profile rookies and attending to matters of player's safety.

Last week's games, however, took the issues in an unexpected direction, as several players suffered severe concussions. With these concussions attributed largely to helmet-to-helmet hits, the league quickly responded by liberally increasing fines for those hits, and issuing a warning that suspensions will be handed out if such hits continue.

Call it ironic, or call it expected, but many NFL players—offensive and defensive—have voiced their displeasure with the league's handling of the situation.

Players understand they are playing American football here, not golf. They are informed about the risks, and they know them when they take the field.

49ers from Patrick Willis to Alex Smith have voiced their opinions about the league's hasty moves to increase fines, and even suspend players delivering helmet-to-helmet hits.

Smith sides with defenders like Willis, who will find their aggressive techniques compromised by the league's babying of ball carriers, passers and receivers.

The effects ripple even further though, as player-league tensions around the CBA have made funding for the 49ers new Santa Clara stadium project a sticky situation.

Weather it's to be interpreted as directly, or indirectly caused by the league's recent rulings (and warnings) the elusive-funding predicament is currently pushing the project back.

Real absurdity comes with the league's proposed move to an 18-game season. Many note this as a move toward a longer, but more boring season.


Searching for a Solution

A lot of experts have proposed ways to increase player safety while keeping the game true. Joe Paterno, for instance, has suggested removing the face mask from helmets.

I view this old-school throwback as an attractive idea, but as any independent-thinking jackass with a keyboard is apt to do, I just have to take it all a step further.

The potential profitability of a longer season is very reasonable, and worth moving towards almost for monetary reasons alone. Still, these are our society's heroes, our Hectors, our Herculeses. We should hold them up, not tear them down.


Compromise on Season Length

A great deal of contradiction comes with the NFL's desire to extend the season, and increase player safety.

From contradiction: compromise. From a 16-game, 17-week season, the NFL could move to a 17-game, 19-week season. The implication here is a second bye week for every team.

Rather than just tacking on two meaningful games—as an 18-game, 19-week season would do—this approach would inject another week of rest and recovery into the year.

Just one extra game per year would be noticeable in terms of revenue, and if successful on all sides, an eighteenth game could then be considered in the terms for the next CBA.

This extra game could, would, and should be in lieu of one preseason game.


Reinvent Football Attire

The jerseys, pants, pads, helmets cleats and all other accessories of the game certainly have a look to them; but that's not to say they can't be improved, while at the same time making it less dangerous to the athletes using them.

Paterno's suggestion is actually pretty awesome. JoePa is from an era today's youth can hardly imagine. The saying "they don't make them like they used to" holds as true for the men and women of those old, venerable generations as it does for many of the craft items they produced.

There's no arguing, however, that today's technology knowledge is much more encompassing than that of the past. Therefore, new-school technology is to be synthesized with old-school craftsmanship and quality.


What the Hell is Burkey Talking About?

What I'm taking about is a comprehensive rethinking, and remaking of the American football uniform.

Traditional materials such as full-grain leather, fine cotton, woven wool or even top-quality silk, being combined with today's technological wonders like Sorbothane and Kevlar.

Harder materials are to be forgone, and the crown of the helmet should be engineered with concern to concussions. Weight, and hardness should be avoided wherever possible, while staying true to the protective qualities of the garment.

The helmet is the primary concern in this overhaul, but with it's reinvention comes the need to match the rest of the uniform to equal quality and safety.

With all this, the need for performance naturally remains an issue. The varied conditions in which American football is played need to be accounted for, as players find themselves everywhere from the swamps of Florida, to the Arizona desert, to the frozen Midwest, stormy Northeast and domes.


Okay, Smart Guy, How are We Gonna Do This?

I'm not an engineer, and I'm definitely no fashion designer, but I do know a thing or two about America and the free market.

People here are motivated by rewards, so put a bounty on the design for the new American football uniform. Something to the tune of $10 million should get some of the nations more capable minds competing to produce a winner.

I currently have no cash on me, so don't come to me with your grandfather's old leather helmet and ask for the reward. I'm just suggesting an idea the National Football League can consider—if it wants to.


Wrap It Up

Before anyone puts athletic tape over my big mouth, or knocks me off my little soapbox, allow me a parting blah-blah-blah.

The voters of Santa Clara approved the stadium measure because they are excited to bring even more football to the area. It's nice to see the occasional coach, or player at the local market, or cellular store after practice, but the people really want games played in their backyards, and the economic growth that it implies.

The helmet-to-helmet issue, the league's knee-jerk reaction, inside-the-box thinking, the CBA, concussion talk—these things all give me a headache.

Increasing fines, and potentially suspending a bunch the league's toughest guys for being, um, tough guys, doesn't make a ton of sense. Not when there are still many unapproached solutions to be considered.

With the uncertainty around the CBA in the back of everyone's mind, hasty moves like this aren't so good for the players; read their interviews, and they will tell you as much.

They're also bad for football, and as everyone involved with financing the 49ers new stadium will tell you—it's bad for business.


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