Everything you read about head injuries is almost solely based on concussions. How many concussions are players experiencing? How severe are they? How quickly can a player return from a concussion? In response to 49er linebacker Chris Borland’s sudden and shocking retirement, NFL honchos, including Roger Goodell, said that football has never been safer and the reasons? Fewer concussions.
Undoubtedly, the link between concussions and the onset of chronic traumatic encephalothapy is compelling. However, there are those whose brains are riddled with CTE, but never had a diagnosed concussion, like the late Chris Henry.
Just as important as concussions are subconcussions, or the minor banging of the brain that occurs daily in football practice and games, particularly for linemen. Sports sociologist Eric Anderson described subconcussive activity like banging your laptop against a table lightly several times a day for several days in a row. After a while, the laptop won’t work so well.
So what’s the solution? Limit padded practice, which a new California state law does (no off-season padded practices) and continue to limit pads during the week as well. Also, outlaw the “triangle” a technique where a linemen uses his head and hands to make contact.
Additionally, outlaw the nose guard lining up over the center’s snapping hand. The only way
for the center to make contact in that instance is with his head. Most importantly, codify good tackling technique into the rules at all levels, meaning leading with the head or forearm would be illegal.
Dropping of the head, failing to wrap up would also be a penalty. Instituting these changes could reduce head injury risk dramatically. It would also reduce the game’s alluring violence. However, not to the level where fans would stop watching. Anyone who has played football knows that hitting with your shoulder, your head up and wrapping with your arms doesn’t mean you can’t hit hard.