Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Helmet Is Not A Weapon

It has been announced that Junior Seau is another “victim” of chronic traumatic encephalopahty. I put that word in quotes, because he made the choice to deliver the blows using his helmet which led to that condition and is a victim of that condition to the same degree that I am a “victim” of emphysema caused by smoking. His family is joining the lawsuit against the NFL, but it was not the NFL who taught him to tackle by using his helmet as a weapon.

So, what can the NFL do about this “problem” in today’s game? For one thing they can teach their players how to tackle effectively, and for another they can make the helmets less robust.

When I was playing football there were three key points made by the coaches who taught me to tackle. Second was that the target area was between the knees and shoulders, Third was that my feet must never leave the ground. The first point, however, was that my head must remain up and contact must be made with my shoulder pad. The point was emphasized by saying that I could not reliably hit what I was not looking at.

They didn’t know about brain injury in those days. Hell, they barely knew what brains were made of, but they knew how tackling was done effectively. If your head is down and your feet are off the ground because you are using yourself as a ballistic missile with your helmet as the warhead, you are going to look idiotic if the runner changes direction after you launch. And in fact, if you watch NFL games today, you will see two or three such idiots on just about every play.

Nonetheless, in my day, some idiot would occasionally make a hit with his helmet, by design or by accident, and when you did that you hurt yourself. A lot. You were lying on the thirty yard line watching little birdies circling above your head and trying to figure out why they were asking you what the score was. You were wondering why the hell they didn’t know the score and, come to think of it, why you didn’t know it either. You didn’t do that again any time soon.

They have penalties for using your helmet, but they need something more practical than that. Players always think they won’t get caught, or even if they do, what’s fifteen yards against the possibility of a touchdown? More importantly, not purposefully hitting with the helmet is not enough; they need actively to take care not to do so.

There is a problem with a helmet that permits making bad hits instead of serving its real purpose. In order to prevent major injury it needs to let minor, noticeable injury happen. A one-time knockout blow, which might not even be a concussion, prevents the endless unnoticed blows that lead to the degenerated brain.

1 comment:

Bartender Cabbie said...

I have heard some advocate going back to the old style leather helmets. That would certainly encourage proper tackling. There is no helmet in Rugby and I don't hear so much about horrible injury.

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