Concussion research, players call NFL future into question

nflBy Daniel Hill
Sports Writer

President Barack Obama has two daughters, but if he had a son, he said that he is not sure if he’d let him play football.

Although Obama is a football fan, he worries about the general safety of the sport.

Obama told The New Republic that he “would have to think long and hard” before letting his son play football.

Obama also said the game is most likely going to change in the future for safety reasons.

“I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence,” Obama said. “In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”

Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard spoke out about the cloudy future of football to He boldly predicted that the NFL wouldn’t even be around in 30 years.

“Thirty years from now, I don’t think it will be in existence,” Pollard said. “I could be wrong. It’s just my opinion, but I think with the direction things are going—where [NFL rules makers] want to lighten up, and they’re throwing flags and everything else—there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.”

Football has never been a safe sport. Even though concussions and head injuries are at the forefront of player safety initiatives, the NFL is still filled with concussions.

For the past three seasons, the number of concussions in the NFL has continued to rise. This could be because athletic trainers and medical personnel are more aware of the dangers of concussions, but it also could be that the NFL is just becoming more and more dangerous.

In 2009, the NFL averaged 5.4 concussions per week. That number increased to 7.6 per week in 2010 and to 8.4 per week in 2011. In spite of new rules prior to the

2011 season that were implemented strictly to enhance player safety and avoid concussions, the number of concussions per week is still trending upward.

The NFL voted in March of 2011 to move the kickoff up to the 35-yard line and to limit players on the kicking team to a five-yard running start. The logic behind this was two-fold. The limited five-yard running start would decrease the amount of speed a player can gain before colliding with another player.

More importantly, the closer kickoff would allow for more touchbacks, which equates to less contact and physical punishment on the play.

NFL referees also have been influenced to throw more penalty flags on helmet-to-helmet hits. With the speed of the game, it’s impossible to judge what is actually a helmet-to-helmet hit without the use of instant replay. This means that when a player legally lays a crushing blow on an opponent, referees are more inclined to throw a penalty flag.

Even with all of the concussion testing and brain research, much of the science behind concussions, brain trauma and the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) remains widely unknown.

In the last two years, six former or current NFL players have committed suicide. It’s unclear how brain trauma and concussions play into the finality of suicide, but it is widely suggested that brain trauma can result in depression and memory loss.

Ultimately, how sustainable is the NFL? With the hits becoming more and more violent, and with players getting bigger, faster and stronger every year, how can the NFL survive long-term with such violence? Bernard Pollard thinks it might take something horribly tragic before the NFL will act upon the state of the game and make genuine changes to aid player safety.

“The only thing I’m waiting for … and, Lord, I hope it doesn’t happen … is a guy dying on the field,” Pollard said. “We’ve had everything else happen there except for a death. We understand what we signed up for, and it sucks.”

NFL players understand the inherent risks of their chosen profession. Nobody forces them to play football. At some point, the NFL is going to have to force players to legally accept the risks associated with playing football.

Lawsuits by former NFL players are hanging over the NFL’s head. With these lawsuits pending, the NFL is trying to do everything in its power to make football safe.

Nothing can make football a safe game. There will always be physical athletes forcing violent collisions. The NFL can’t take away the heart and soul of the game just to make it safer.

If the NFL continues on its current path of instituting every rule possible to protect players in a violent game, then eventually the NFL product will just look like the Pro Bowl.

Players won’t hit at the line of scrimmage and defenders will pretend to tackle the person with the ball. Nobody wants to watch that. The NFL has to embrace the physicality of the game and assume the risks that run along with promoting a violent sport.