Heart-to-heart on helmet-to-helmet


By Alex Valladares

With the professional football season culminating in the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl victory, the National Football League prepared to release its annual injury report.

One of the most glaring finds of the report states overall injuries fell, but concussions were on the rise as the most common specified injury in the sport. Mild traumatic brain injury is second in number only to the wider specification of so-called heat related conditions.

So it begs the question, what is the NFL doing to protect its players from suffering potential long-term injuries like concussions?

During the regular season, the league office began to fine players a hefty sum for helmet-to-helmets hits.  The fine doubles if a player is a repeat offender, like Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison.

On Oct. 17, 2010, Harrison – along with New England Patriots’ Brandon Meriwether and the Atlanta Falcons’ Dunta Robinson – were fined a combined $150,000 for hits the league deemed helmet-to-helmet.

Robinson’s hit on Philadelphia Eagles’ DeSean Jackson was so vicious Jackson spent the night at a hospital and missed the next three games.

The league immediately announced if any helmet-to-helmet hits occurred it would result in a fine and possible suspension.

There were no reported helmet-to-helmet hits the following weekend, but the hits that players take in the wallet do not have the long-term effects that hits to the head may have.

The league was able to temporary halt the rash of hits that lead to concussions, but it cannot permanently stop them from occurring.

One of the appeals of football is watching players like Harrison or the Baltimore Ravens’ Ed Reed dish out some bone-jarring hits.  But fans know most of the time, the opposing player is able to get up and walk away from it.

The keyword there is “most” of the time.

Concussions have forced some of the game’s greats to walk away early, while they still had some marbles rolling around in their head.

Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young and Troy Aikman suffered multiple concussions during their careers.

On Dec. 27, 1999, just shy of his 38th birthday, Young suffered a concussion on a Monday Night Football game after being leveled by the Arizona Cardinals’ Aeneas Williams and never played in another game.

Two years later, Aikman announced his retirement, as teams were reluctant to sign him to a contract.  It was believed Aikman suffered as many as 10 concussions throughout his career.

The league started baseline concussion tests in training camp in 2007 and created a new helmet with more padding to reduce the chances of head injuries, but it also has proposed to extend the regular season from 16 to 18 games.

This in the face of the latest report stating there is a 15 percent chance of each player suffering a head/neck/spine injury at some point during the 16-game season and with players already advocating to shorten the preseason to avoid injuries.

The NFL may want to give its fans more games but it should not come at the cost of its players.  After all, it’s the players who have to live with the symptoms and after-effects of concussions.  At the end of the day, the fans can go home, but players can carry these effects for the rest of their lives.