NFL Concussion Problem is Solvable

This blog was written in June 2012 but is still timely, especially following the previous weekend’s games in which a number of key players including Michael Vick and Jay Cutler were lost to concussion.

More than 2000 NFL players filed a lawsuit against the league Thursday over the growing issue of concussions, the injuries derived from them, and the National Football League’s handling of them in the past. These players claim long-term neurological damage from their time playing football. I’ve thought for years how this can be largely solved by doing something that has already been done.

Buffalo Bill Mark Kelso padded his helmet.

Buffalo Bill Mark Kelso padded his helmet.

It’s not your imagination if the helmet being worn by former Buffalo Bills Safety Mark Kelso looks a little larger than a normal football players helmet. Look at it closely and you can see Kelso had a foam padding created as a shell for the top of the head-gear. And Kelso was no slouch player. He played seven years for the Bills from 1986 to 1993, and started in four Super Bowls. Kelso began wearing the cap after…wait for it…a concussion.

And Kelso wasn’t the only one to show wisdom. Rather than give in to the vanity of thinking the cap makes the helmet too big and look funny, San Francisco 49er offensive tackle Steve Wallace wore a foam cap on his helmet too.

Steve Wallace in his "Cone helmet"

Steve Wallace in his “Cone helmet”

And Wallace played in a Pro Bowl.

The argument against these big helmets has come from the players. Not the NFL. And to bitch about the aesthetics of something that could significantly increase your own safety, for the rest of your life, is just plain silly. It’s vanity. Besides, if ALL the players are wearing the same larger helmets you won’t look odd. You’d look odd not wearing one.

The player’s lawsuit is the biggest one ever filed in sports. In all likelihood there will be a settlement for hundreds of millions of dollars and it will never go to court. Which is probably good for the players since they are the ones refusing to wear the foam caps which have been available for them to wear for more than 20 years. Most players also refuse to wear knee pads in their pants. They claim the knee and thigh pads slow them down, and don’t protect their legs much. However much they protect their legs, they are likely to protect another players head considerably. Or, have you not seen dozens of players knocked out of games over the years by taking an inadvertent knee to the head?

Fortunately the league has mandated that all players begin wearing knee and thigh pads again beginning in the 2013 season. Why they’re waiting that extra season makes no sense to me. They could start protecting players immediately.

Lastly Commissioner Roger Goodell should continue to crack down on helmet to helmet hits. Players need to be reminded it’s not the proper, or sure way of tackling anyway. Look at NFL Films clips from the 60s and 70s. You don’t see a lot of head shots. Tackles were made in a less vicious way. But they were still excitingly violent. I was taught to plant my facemask squarely in the ball-carriers chest and to wrap him up. Watch Dick Butkis, Merlin Olson, Jack Lambert, Mean Joe Green, Mel Blount, Ronnie Lott or any of the All-Timers. They weren’t head hunters. They were superb defensive tacklers.

It’s always frustrating when a problem persists despite answers being readily available. The NFL didn’t become a multi-billion dollar industry by being stupid. Though they will be if they don’t institute these simple and available solutions. Failing to do so in years to come would leave the league criminally negligent.

Thanks for visiting. Comments are welcome.