This post was inspired by a discussion my brother-in-law and I had about safety in football and concussions. It got me thinking about solutions the NFL could impose to dramatically improve player safety.
Between my brother-in-law and I we bounced around some let's say radical ideas, from "super" helmets to no tackling above the shoulders to crazy high dollar fines. We both agreed that all of these ideas were pretty silly and unrealistic. We talked about different rule changes and technique changes to make the game more safe, but every idea we had was too big of change to still call the game being played football.
We finished the discussion by saying, "maybe it is what it is, and there just isn't any thing that can fix it"
This conclusion didn't sit well with me so I continued to think on the subject for the last few days. I know this is not a black and white subject. This is not something you can paint with a broad brush and solve for everyone and every situation, but I feel I have come up with a solution, or at least a huge step in the right direction.
Now, by my own admission, I am not a medical doctor nor do I have any special knowledge on the topic of concussions. I've only had one concussion in my life from playing sandlot football when I was a teenager. But I have spent some time reading up on the subject. From my very elementary understanding of concussions it seems to me that there are two major concerns with concussions: 1. Suffering repeated injury to the same area of the brain. 2. Suffering multiple concussions consecutively with out proper healing time.
With this in mind I came to the conclusion the best way to protect players is to remove them from the field of play to allow for proper healing. Now I feel the NFL has made great strides in diagnosing concussions on the sidelines and it can only improve. My suggestion is if a player is diagnosed with a concussion they are automatically, with no exceptions, suspended. The medical suspension would be of a determined time frame by doctors and experts, but I feel 4-6 weeks is where it should end up.
Now I can already here the counter arguments and melt downs of people over this idea, but hear me out. I am also a fan of MMA, and the UFC has a policy that any fighter who suffers a knockout or a diagnosed concussion is automatically hospitalized and suspended. The suspensions vary from region to region based on different athletic commissions, but the shortest suspension I found was 60 days.
On the other side of this issue are the players who deliberately inflect illegal tackles and helmet to helmet hits, which are the main culprit to concussions. This is a simple fix. The NFL already has a committee that investigates every illegal hit, flagged or not, and issues fines. They could use this same committee to determine whether or not an illegal hit to the head of an opponent was avoidable. If the hit was illegal and avoidable that player would be suspended. For first time violators it would be 1 game, second offense 4 games, third offense 1 full season, and a fourth offense would be banishment from the league.
This may seem extreme but in my eyes this is the only way to send a message to these players, and more importantly the coaches, that illegal hits to the head are not to be tolerated. Financial fines are pointless, especially when they are of such a small amount compared to their salaries. With the proposed system in place they not only hurt themselves but hurt the team, and it would only take once of having a star defensive player off the field for a game which results in a loss to have a coach and an owner who start to preach proper tackling technique and to avoid unnecessary hits to the head.
Now like I stated earlier, this is not a black or white issue. There will always be circumstances that fall out side of the norm. And it is not easy for a committee to determine intent and whether or not a hit was avoidable, but if this proposed system was only enforced on the blatant offenders, think James Harrison, it could dramatically improve the safety issue with little affect to the way the game is played.
With all of this being said, I do not think the NFL will ever institute this type of policy, and here is why I think that. The NFL is a business, and like every other business their goal is not only to make money, but to make more money than they did the year before. With that being said they will never create a policy that will remove star players from the field. Lets imagine Ed Reed makes and illegal helmet to helmet hit on Tom Brady. Brady is diagnosed with a concussion and Ed Reed is a repeat offender. Two of the biggest stars in the game are now going to be suspended for 4-6 weeks. That wont help sell tickets or increase television viewership.
So at the end of the day there are solutions to this problem but it is going to rely on a multibillion dollar organization making a decision that hurts profits.