Two posts in two weeks, LB??? What gives, are you actually writing again? Well, sort of. I mean, look at the title, you call that writing? Actually, after an atrocious week of NFL picks (3-10-1, yeeeesh!), thought I’d spend a little time talking about something else I don’t know much about: concussions. This post is unofficially sponsored by Excedrin.
I’ve been lucky in my “athletic” career. I suffered no injuries through childhood sports, then none again after four years of track and cross, not even a shin split, which is quite common. Save a mild ankle sprain playing tennis a couple years back and the occasional lower back problem, I’ve stayed off the DL (that sound you hear is me dropping a 30 lb. dumbbell on my toe next time I wake up to lift). A former friend of mine suffered mightily from concussions to the point she eventually was only supposed to ice skate with a helmet on, so I know these puppies are pretty freaking serious.
Not really sure how it happened, probably just a random chance, but there were a hell of a lot of concussions in the NFL this past weekend, and it’s been quite the hot topic on national sports talk and Sportscenter. Maybe it’s just the stereotypical rabbit ears or eagle eyes noticing after last week, but it seems like there have been more of these this year than in the past. Good for the NFL for recognizing this about a year ago, and they now have rules in place that determine what exams are required and how long a player must be symptom free before he can play again. The rules all but prevent any player with a concussion from re-entering a game, which, if you ask me (which I’m glad you did), is a very good thing.
The more interesting thing to me is how players and former players are reacting to it all, most notably the idea that the NFL may start enforcing an already-existing rule about suspending players who they deem are intentionally trying to injure or use “excessive force” (at least, I think that was the quote) when hitting another player. Rodney Harrison, on Sunday Night Football, said that he was never deterred by a fine, only a suspension. Quite a few players have said that if you start legislating how players are allowed to hit, it will make the game worse and that they won’t be able to play the game the same way. James Harrison of the Stilers is even reportedly contemplating retirement, stating, in part, that he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to play the way he knows how to play under proposed rule enforcement.
I heard an interview with Brian Baldinger that said a lot for me about the topic. His point was, how do you determine what’s excessive and what’s not… his example was, say you have a goal line play, and the running back launches himself into the air to try and score. The linebacker, rightfully so, gets a running start and launches himself over the line in an effort to stop the runner from scoring. Let’s then say that the linebacker happens to go helmet-to-helmet with the runner, giving him a concussion. Obviously, the linebacker intended to launch himself, but so did the running back. Who’s to fault? Is that excessive, or what’s called for in that situation? Tough call, right?
If you looked at some of the plays from this weekend (Robinson on Jackson, Harrison on Massaquoi, Merriweather on Heap), it’s hard to tell what’s an attempt to injure someone and what’s just a hard hit in the game. As I mentioned, most players are against the crackdown, saying it’s a part of the game. One mentioned that you would have the change the way guys were coached because they’ve been taught to play like this their whole life. And you know something? They’re right! I mean, as a fan, have you ever been disappointed in the past when you see big hits? Does the crowd boo when they see their guy light up another player? Of course not, silly. And if the NFL had weren’t into seeing those hits (and the excitement it brings fans, which, indirectly, yields more popularity to the sport, which yields… you guessed it, more cash! Oh, and did I mention that up until Wednesday you could buy photos of the Harrison and Merriweather hits on the NFL website? Oops!), they would have cracked down back in the 70s and 80s when this stuff was still going on. Of course, you could argue that the helmets weren’t exactly as good back then, but I think it’s much simpler than that. I think you can pretty much trace it to two things:
1. Increased awareness of concussions in general – similarly to other social phenomenon, good and bad, that I won’t use as examples cause it’s really not relevant, concussions may not necessarily be more prevalent (though I’m going to contradict that take in a minute here, sit tight), but just more known. Diagnosis is better and awareness is high, especially with the increased focus of late on the medical plight of former players. Side note, I read somewhere that for every year an NFL player is active, their life expectancy drops like three years. Isn’t that nuts? Talk about loving a game. Which, side side note, is why the players will be fighting that 18 game schedule. Owners want it because of… money!
Sorry, digressed-ed for a minute. Yeah, so back to what I was saying, we’re all paying attention to concussions a lot more now, and will be paying even more attention to them in the future, so you can expect the reported incident of concussions to go up even more. MLB even announced this week they are considering a special DL for concussions that would shorten the length of time the player had to be out (7 days versus 15), which shows more awareness of diagnosis and treatment of concussions, and treating them differently than other injuries. Then again, maybe there are more concussions occurring. All together now, “why is that, Logical Betting?” Good question, kids.
2. Athletes, across all sports, are just more athletic – just as we have advanced in our ability to diagnose a concussion, we have advanced our ability to be more athletic. As we become more knowledgeable about nutrition, fitness, workout routines, and our bodies in general, we will continue to evolve in our ability to run faster, be stronger, and have more endurance. Marathon records aren’t about to sit dormant for the next 20 years. Weightlifters aren’t about to start decreasing the amount that it takes to win Olympic gold. And football players are going to be no exception. They’ve gotten faster, strong, quicker, and are only going to get better at launching their bodies faster and with more force than ever before. And we can design more and more protective helmets and gear, and it will never keep up with the pace of training and nutrition.
What we probably have is a combination of both of the above. Finding cause isn’t really the issue, I suppose, it’s more about protecting players. But if you check the headlines, they don’t seem that interested in being protected. Then again, if you were a’gin your teammates (yeah, I’m on beer two, starting to make southern accent jokes like I just read Of Mice and Men or Huck Finn), my guess is you aren’t about to be the most vocal in the media, especially in an NFL locker room.
Either way, the rules are set, and the NFL can choose to impose them, the NFL players can choose to appeal, and we’ll see how it goes. For now, it looks like a bunch of fines across the board. Will be interesting to see how players react on the field the next few weeks. Most of this is likely going to blow over through the season, we’ll play the Super Bowl, then hold our collective breaths and hope that there isn’t a lock out. God, please tell me there won’t be a lock out. If not for us passionate fans, and if not for the tailgate lovers amongst us, but if only to prevent a revolt from all the fantasy football stat geeks who will intentionally crash the Internets if there is a lock out (disclosure – I’m in two leagues, but I don’t take it that seriously. Seriously. Ask my dad. I co-own one of those teams with him, and do everything in my power to keep him from “player scoreboard watching.” It’s been mildly effective). But that, my friends, is (hopefully not) for another post, and another day.
Complete side note to sign off… watching Game 4 of the NLCS, and McCarver just made the first intelligent comment I have ever heard him make. When Ruiz got thrown out at home in the 5th on a Victorino single, he pointed out that Victorino should have been at second base on the play. Tim! Nice! Where the hell have you been the last 20 years??? Even more telling, Utley followed with a single that would have easily scored Victorino and tied the game. My feet are getting cold, is hell freezing over?
Oh, and of course, those “I know nothing” NFL picks. 3-10-1 last week, a blustery 10-17-1 on the year.
Titans (-3) v. Eagles – Which Iggle team shows up?
Stilers (-3) at Miami – Simmons called Big Criminal “the White Mamba.” Awesome.
Falcons (-3.5) v. Bengals – Cincy is so overrated
Chiefs (-9) v. Jags – The Chiefs might actually be good.
Redskins (+3) at Chicago – The Bears, on the other hand, are not.
Saints (-13) v. Cleveland – If Saints win big, they are officially back. Kind of.
Ravens (-13) v. Buffalo – Easy win for my AFC champ pick.
Carolina (+3) v. SF – I rarely pick teams crossing the country for early games, and SF isn’t good enough to be an exception.
Tampa Bay (-3) v. St. Louis – This game could actually be relevant in a couple years.
Seattle (-6) v. Arizona – Seahens are tough at home.
Pats (+3) at San Diego – This line absolutely screams Chargers, but I’m taking the bait.
Broncos (-8.5) v. Oakland – Has Oakland been anything less than a 6 point dog all year? Yikes.
Packers (-3) v. Minnesota – Hide your pretty press liaisons, Packer fans, Benedict is back in town.
Cowboys (-3) v. NY Giants – No way they get embarrassed on Monday night, right? And why hasn’t Wade Phillips been fired yet?