Matters of the heart (and head)

Stephen Brashear

Today I will try my best to gently take on the hot button topic of concussions, and the NFL's attempts to tackle this issue head on.

Very few things in life are more valuable than maintaining a healthy mind and body. Yet when the elite athletes of the NFL take the field in any capacity, they are personally choosing to put their present and future viability on the line. Although some players have been fortunate enough to enjoy long careers without short or long term physical and mental damage, others have not been so lucky.

In particular, brain diseases as severe as Alzheimer's and ALS have been diagnosed among yesterday's players for many years now, and those conditions have been subsequently linked to head trauma injuries experienced during their former playing days. This is a crying shame because it is clearly evident that these valuable football forefathers were taking multiple in-game shots to the head while the NFL buried their own noggins in the friendly, protected confines of the sand. As a result of this negligence, the League has been inundated with hundreds of lawsuits in recent years.

In response to the overwhelming litigation, the NFL finally decided to to take some important steps to protect the head. For instance, they most recently approved the implementation of a new in-game protocol that includes placing an independent neurotrauma specialist on the sideline of every game. This was an easy change that everyone, including players, could have agreed upon long ago.

However, when the NFL finally began to crack down on defenders who purposely and unintentionally use their helmets to batter opponents in the head, there was no shortage of resistance from all sides. Fans, pundits, and players alike have each expressed their utter disdain for the resulting ubiquitous penalties and fines that flood today's in-season headlines.

The players themselves (especially defenders) are particularly dismayed by the new rules because they feel as if their characters are being unfairly judged by subjective calls that are too difficult for any human being to correctly decipher at game speed. Additionally, they (especially offensive players) will tell you that the spotlight on the head has subsequently further exposed the lower half of the body. All of these arguments are completely valid, but the NFL had to do something mostly because they were backed into a corner.

Ironically, the stance among today's players is in direct opposition to how their progenitors currently feel about this crucial matter. The new school would rather miss a week or two after being concussed than miss a full year with a leg or knee injury. This is taken directly from the textbook of accounting 101. In other words, the long term effect of head trauma is tacitly preferred over the assumed short term loss of income and athleticism due to hits sustained below the waist.

In order to get a sense of where CSR's faithful stand concerning this debate, I would like you to consider which of the following best describes your feelings on the subject(a more condensed version will be available to vote on in the poll that follows).

A. I am glad the League has decided to crack down on helmet-to-helmet contact with penalties and fines. If I were an NFL player, I would be grateful that the League decided to discourage hits to the head, thereby decreasing my chances of developing any of the dreadful diseases that may be associated with trauma to the brain. The possible loss of salary due to an increase in hits to the lower half of my body is more acceptable than the potential premature loss of brain function. When it comes down to it, there isn't any amount of money that is worth the priceless value of my short and long term mental health.

B. These penalties and fines are ludicrous and mostly baseless. The League is practically encouraging guys to take out knees. If I were an NFL player, I wouldn't have to think twice about earning an eight to nine figure income over the course of my career even if I knew I would develop a debilitating brain disease at the age of fifty. The short and long term financial windfall which would set my family up for many years to come is more important than literally losing my mind. Simple and plain, it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

As a fan, I do believe the NFL game has lost a bit of it's former self with the new rules designed to better protect the brain. Unfortunately for these players (especially on offense), an increase in lower half injuries is simply unavoidable. For what it's worth, I don't believe the game is any less entertaining just because the League decided to eliminate a bit of it's barbaric roots.

Will the focus on mitigating head trauma completely eliminate brain diseases connected to the game of football? Of course not. Will there ever be a time when the referees are able to perfectly interpret the difference between a legal and illegal hit to the head? Absolutely not. Nevertheless, the NFL has taken a step in the right direction not only for the sake of jurisprudence, but more importantly for the benefit of future generations.

Now that you know how I feel, let everyone know what you think in the poll and the comment section that follows.

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