Common sense rules to reduce head injury

The late Chris Henry had CTE (AP/Amy Sancetta)

The late Chris Henry had CTE (AP/Amy Sancetta)

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.


Kevin Lynch

Kevin Lynch is in his 27th season covering the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers and Bay Area sports. He also is a guest radio host and pregame 49ers host on KNBR-AM San Francisco - the flagship station for the 49ers, San Francisco Giants, and Stanford football and basketball. Working mainly for sfgate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle's web site, Lynch is expanding into sports' biggest questions and hottest debates such as - LBGTQ acceptance, athlete criminality, the ethics of performance-enhancing drugs, marijuana, locker room culture, sports and gender, sports and sex, sports and money, sports and race, sports and social change and many other issues. He has written editorials on LBGTQ resistance in sports for the Chronicle and has appeared on KQED radio, Comcast Sports Bay Area and ESPN's Outside the Lines to talk about a variety of sports topics. He completed a Master's in Sociology at San Jose State in 2015, which included a thesis on LBGtT Resistant Attitudes and Behaviors in Sports.


  1. Why don’t we just drop the game of football as we know and love it today. I played for 8 straight years as did many of my friends and family. Millions of people in our country have played football popwarner, highschool, college, ect with no long term brain damage. So let’s just call it a day and get rid of the game

  2. Obviously I’m being sarcastic but for the love of the game. It’s a brutal sport and that’s why PEOPLE LOVE IT!!! So no… quit modifying it so much and turning it into flag football. I’m sure cigs, booze and drugs all do a billion times more damage than people playing football.

  3. Hard to say if the NFL should protect your head, or if you should protect your own head and play a different sport. More protections by the NFL make sense, but it still doesn’t make sense to play this extremely dangerous sport, no matter the money. Your head is the most important part of your body, so you might not want to bang it around so much.

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