Injuries and the NFL: Breaking a Few Eggs To Make an Omelete

Graeme FrisqueContributor IINovember 25, 2008

It seems every week I come across another article crying about injury rates in the NFL. Writers and fans alike complaining how it is an injustice of some kind that their favorite player is on the sidelines or their favorite team sucks because their best players are always out. 

This is football people. Go watch curling or bowling or something if injuries bother you so much. Injuries are a reality of sports, especially so in football. Anytime you put 22 massive men on a field together where the object of the game is to hit or avoid being hit, injuries are a necessary evil. 

You cannot have football without injuries. Even an intense game of flag football will likely result in an injury of some kind to one player or another. Love it or hate, it is what it is.

Let's get one thing straight before we continue, NFL players are not victims, nor are fans who are deprived of watching their favorite players every week. Injuries are in no way unfair or unethical.

Players get paid very well to take the risks involved in the game of football, and fans pay of lot of money to watch them take those risks. An NFL player's job is to put their bodies on the line week in and week out. Those who aren't willing to do so don't make it in a game that demands it; and aren't usually fan favorites.

As a New England Patriot fan, I know first hand that injuries can be both a curse and a blessing. Injuries to superstars often give birth to new superstars. An opportunity lost to injury for one player always results in an opportunity for another to shine.

You don't hear too many New England Patriots fans complaining about the injury to Drew Bledsoe that gave a once unknown backup quarterback named Tom Brady his chance to start. Nor would Matt Cassel have likely ever seen his shot had Tom Brady not gone down early this season with a knee injury.

Even though having Tom Brady under center would be nice, as is the case with most injuries, there has been a silver lining of sorts. I have really enjoyed watching Matt Cassel develop and succeed; not to mention the thrill of an actual race in the AFC east again. 

As a Patriots fan, losing Tom Brady sucked, but as a football fan you gotta love watching Cassel do his thing. Texans rookie RB Steve Slaton and Eagles rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson are other great examples of young talent who shined when their numbers were called to fill in for injured starters this season.

Are there ways to reduce the risk of injury to players?  It has been suggested that a 14-game schedule and/or less preseason games might reduce the incidence of injury. It may, but it will also result in less football for fans. There may be less injuries, numerically speaking, but less games will have little or no effect on the rate or the severity of injuries in the NFL. 

This leaves the league with the other option of rule changes to minimize the risk to players. However, there is only so much the league can do in that regard without dramatically changing the product on the field.

So how can the league make an inherently dangerous game safer without changing the product on the field too dramatically?  I think the answer lies in improving equipment, and grassroots training when it comes to tackling.

Rugby is a very physical sport and the players are not protected by pads. The fundamentals of tackling are emphasized from junior clubs all the way to the pros.  Tacklers must be effective, but must also be careful.  Not only for the benefit of their opponent, but for their own well being as well. 

If rugby players were to fly at each other with complete abandon as NFL players do, they would be just as likely to hurt themselves as their opponent.  In the absence of padding, effective, safer, fundamental tackling technique becomes essential.

Pro rugby players have very little in way of safety equipment, but consistently post lower injury rates than their counterparts in the NFL. Tackling technique and mechanics must be emphasized at every level from house leagues to college, and that will eventually translate to the NFL.

Better technique also makes better tacklers. I am always amazed when I watch an NFL game by how many guys are just flying all over the place missing tackles because they're trying to make a big hit, so they can do a little dance or something!

You don't have to make a highlight-reel tackle every down. The best tacklers in the NFL aren't often flashy, they just get the job done.

There are no easy ways to make the game of football safer. Personally, I don't think injuries in the NFL have reached a point of concern. Sure, players get injured every week and each new season brings new superstar casualties; but I think the old adage that you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet is very applicable here.

Injuries for all their downsides are part of what makes the NFL exciting and competitive.  They add to the weekly drama that is the NFL, and I like the weekly drama that is the NFL.

For every Joe Montana and Drew Bledsoe that gets hurt, a Steve Young or Tom Brady is born. Unfortunately, along with every superstar that gets injured, there are those who cry for changes to the game I love in the name of safety.

Injuries are a part of football, and they are a part of football that as a fan I am quite comfortable with.  I don't want changes to the game, I don't want less games...I do, however, want the wimpy mouthpieces who bitch about injuries to do like the players they are lobbying to protect and suck it up.