Innovation Won't Prevent Football Head Injuries Football is a very violent sport played by large, fast and very strong men. This violence is a large part of its fan appeal. I am not a psychologist, so I can't explain why this is so. I personally enjoy watching the game, but am troubled by the substantial injury risks its players face.
Injuries, including head injuries continue to be a regular occurrence and an occupational hazard for players. In 2015, the NFL reported 271 concussions (in games and practice). Despite heightened awareness of player concussion risks and their long term health consequences, football remains America's most popular sport.
The game's leadership (both at the college and the professional level) recognizes that it needs to take a more proactive stance to help prevent head injuries. This includes exploring and implementing changes in game play technique, rules and equipment. For example, defensive coaches are now teaching players rugby-style tackling techniques that can reduce the potential for helmet-to-helmet contact, a major contributor to concussions. Game rules now penalize players and teams for player hits that can result in head injuries, including expulsions. Yet, the concussions keep coming.
Intensive efforts are underway to develop innovations, some quite ingenious, to enhance player helmets to improve their ability to withstand shock from impacts. For example, consider a helmet with a design modeled on the natural head cushioning of woodpeckers: http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2011-02/woodpecker-heads-inspire-new-cushioning-systems-electronics-and-humans . Other companies are developing sophisticated techniques to more accurately diagnose concussions and help ensure players are restored to sufficient healthfulness to (relatively) safely resume play. Still, the concussions keep coming.
I have a simple suggestion for how to dramatically reduce the incidence of football head injuries: make the penalties for illegal hits far more costly to a team than current rules allow. Beyond player expulsion for a targeted hit, perhaps points should be awarded to the injured player's team. Perhaps this kind of foul should result in a loss of points by the offending team. Perhaps both. I don't know. All I know is that when the cost of an illegal hit becomes so significant that it can potentially alter the outcome of the game, head injuries induced by targeting should substantially diminish.
Admittedly, it's a delicate balancing act to modify the game sufficiently to make it considerably safer without drastically altering game play and diminishing the "fan experience". Would some fans complain that these changes would alter the purity of the game? Yes, they would. Still, I think it's time that the sport's leadership make a more dedicated effort to reducing head injuries, in the interest of player safety and the game's long term viability.
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