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Concussions: Why The League's Goal Isn't To Take Contact Out Of Football

More and more every league year, we hear more and more about concussions. We see sites that leave us as fans, the owners, and the players themselves speechless. There are two hits from last season that are clear as day in my mind from last season. The Philadelphia Eagles played the Atlanta Falcons and on what looked like a short little dump pass to DeSean Jackson turned out to be a severely violent and dangerous hit. Jackson missed two games and a bye week. What he misses in games isn't important but what is important is the after effects of what people will in the future. 

A recent study from the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL has revealed some interesting information. 

Take the hop to learn.

As I was saying, a recent research project of the Stampeders of the CFL interests me. Now get your jokes out of the way about the CFL and your "eh" comments because it is irrelevant eh? 

I work at a radio station and produce a sports talk show, and a discussion during the show is what inspired me to write this. Former Calgary Stampeder, Greg Peterson, was in studio speaking about his brother Brent Peterson who is a former NHL player for the Nashville Predators. Peterson said that his brother through his eleven year career suffered through what he guessed was nine or ten concussions without sitting out of games. Today Brent Peterson has Parkinson's disease. Brent will not admit it but Greg says he knows that the reason for having the disease is from playing through the concussions. Brent Peterson played pro hockey from 1979-1989 so of course the medical knowledge was not as advanced as it is today.

In Greg Peterson's CFL career, he admitted to have a few concussions of his own. The coaches would tell Greg after he had thrown up "here just take a couple aspirin. Throwing up is normal after concussion, you will be fine." 

Anywho, on to the research project by the Stampeders. A new crown that goes around the inside of the helmet measures the amount of times that player takes to the head during the game. After the game, what the Stampeders can do is plug the helmet into a computer and measure the amount of his, the speed and how much force was applied.

Stampeders medical director Pat Clayton says "The number of hits these guys take in any game is very high. Offensive lineman average out between 86 and 92. That's a lot of hits to the head." 

Of course not all the hits are of the concussion type but it is still a lot of hits to the head that are dangerous and with the data they can figure out how many hits are being taken and at what speed.

These helmets cost around $1000 compared to the $300 for a regular helmet. Most of the eight CFL teams are using the helmets now . The team is now having running back John Cornish wear the special helmet for the rest of his career because he has had concussions previously and they want to see the effects since the possibilities of him having another are high. 

The helmet information has been useful already.  Former star quarterback Dave Dickenson in the league had to retire earlier than he wished because of several concussions. After several concussions and one light knee to the head that delivered the final blow he had no choice but to call it quits.

Leigh Steinberg is a concussion expert. He has held concussion summits to raise awareness of the problems. Steinberg recalled a conversation he had with Troy Aikmen after the 1994 NFC Championship.


Aikman: "Did we play a football game today?’’

Steinberg: "Yes.’’

Aikman: "How did we do?’’

Steinberg: "You did well.’’

Aikman: "What does that mean?’’

Steinberg: "You’re going to the Super Bowl.’’

Five minutes later, Aikman had a few more questions.

"Did we play a football game today?’’

"How did we do?’’

"What does that mean?’

And Five minutes later, the same thing. Clearly, Aikmen's mild concussion had memory loss. Aikmen had to retire due to concussion problems. There are endless examples. Andre Waters, a former NFL defensive back committed suicide. Months later doctors discover the suicidal behaviour was partly due to brain damage on the football field. Another example from this past year. Dave Duerson, a former bear player this past year commit suicide and again, months later was discovered he had brain trouble. Yet, the NFL wants an 18 game schedule!? 

Steinberg thinks the NFL needs to do the following:

  • Require teams to test the neurocognitive state of each player, which would allow physicians to see how levels changed after head-related injuries.
  • Leave medical experts in charge of determining whether players should return to the field rather than allowing players who feel obligated to play through the pain to return.
  • Require neurological experts to be on the field to evaluate players after head-related injuries.
  • Educate players and other officials on the dangers of concussions, thereby forcing all stakeholders to take the issue more seriously.
At least over the years the NFL has started to notice it and start working on it. Last year was finally the turning point where the NFL really seemed to start paying attention to it. After the Desean Jackson incident where there were several helmet to helmet hits in that same season, the league decided it was time to act. They said they would start suspending players for head to head hits instead of fines. Well, from what I recall the league didn't suspend anyone. If the NFL really want to crack down on these guys, they need to really nail a team with suspension on the player and fine the team after repeat offenders. Really take charge. Knock out James Harrison for 2 or 3 games next time he does another launching head shot. 

Ted Johnson, a former Patriots linebacker admits to having several concussions over the course of his career and has already said that he has the early sign of Alzheimer's disease and suffers from depression. 

Hockey as also been a recent topic about this same thing. Eric Lindros, a seven time all star NHL player had his career shortened with concussions. Several seasons he missed a lot of games due to headaches and concussion symptoms. This past season Max Pacioretty was run into the the edge of the glass and was out for a little while. A week ago in the NHL playoffs Nathan Horton was hit on a blindside hit a second after he passed the puck and is out with a severe concussion for these playoffs and a lot longer too probably. At least the NHL figured it out and kicked the guy out for the rest of the playoffs. Of course the biggest story in hockey the past year was the concussion of the best player in hockey today, Sidney Crosby. Early January, Crosby was run down on a blindside hit to the head and without a proper diagnosis, the next night he was hit again. It was a terrible thing costing the Penguins their season, not that that is an important issue in this. Sadly, maybe that was the best thing for the league. It took the best player in the game today to get hurt for this season and unarguably the rest of his career to get the NHL to realize their is a crisis on ice. I don't mean to make this a hockey article, but you get my drift. It is not just football that players lives are being ruined. Marc Savard of the NHL had a concussion in the 2009/2010 season that ended his season and in the 2010 year, he had his year ended on another hit with, you guessed it, another concussion.

When people start talking about the NFL taking contact out of football, it drives me insane. Gimme a break! Football is being turned into what it should be. A contact sport with safety. The reason it was not like this for the past years since football began is because no one noticed anything because a concussion was a nothing injury. Like I said above, it was a take an Advil injury and get back out there because a little concussion is nothing. Football is changing whether you like it or not for the better. There might be less devastating hits that we all like to see, but at least you won't see as many players with post career long term injuries that we had before. The league's goal is not to take away hitting from the game. The goal is to save the players lives. I will enjoy football as much as I have before if the headshots are gone. Remember last year when Ray Lewis hit Dustin Keller in week one on the last play of the game? That was an awesome hit and that is all I need for big hits. I don't need Austin Collie getting his bell rung, Brandon Meriwether launching at a player and knocking his head off or Desean Jackson getting knocked out and convulsing. Remember this, helmets are not made to prevent concussions. Helmets are made to prevent skull fractures. As time goes on, the helmets will improve, but I think it is up to the respect of the players to help the players by not lowering the head. I don't claim to be a technique expert but I played high school football and at camps with pro CFL players teaching the proper technique I was taught something different than what James Harrison does. I don't mean to pick on Harrison but on the dirty hits, he lowers his head and he is looking down. On a same tackle your facemask should be facing your opponent that is being tackled. Eyes up not down. So give me a break when people say contact is leaving football. What is leaving football is short careers because concussions are becoming more aware and the right precautions are being taken. Teams are now forced to make sure that if a player is facing the following they cannot play:
  • Memory loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
And rightfully so. Nobody likes to see injuries. Concussions last season were up 21% from the previous year. I don't think it is really that much of an increase, but I think we are learning the symptoms better and they are more detectable. A player has to know when to draw the line between being a tough macho man and actually knowing when to sit out. After all, we are all kidding around when we say, I want Von Miller to knock Phillip Rivers' head off. Right???