NFLs Tackling Problem
Monday night football featured a battle between divisional rivals Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals that was absolutely brutal to watch.
The game was played with a lot of intensity and the hits were plentiful as viewers saw Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier sent to the hospital after a scary looking injury where he was down for several minutes – not moving his legs. Luckily, Shazier has improved and according to Ian Rapoport, Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has given an update on Shazier, who will not need surgery and is suffering from a back injury.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 5, 2017
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was laid out by Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster after a blind side block that led to Burfict being taken off of the field on a stretcher. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown got demolished by Bengals defensive back George Iloka on a hit leading with his helmet looking to deliberately hurt Brown.
These hits could very easily lead to fines and suspensions for both Schuster and Iloka. Week after week, players are getting concussed, injured, and being removed from games for head and neck injuries caused by poor tackling, illegal helmet to helmet hits, and blindside blocks/tackles.
Fans and players alike have known about these problems for a while now, and the NFL must take even more measures to keep the game safer, and here is how.
The easiest way to start protecting players is to invest more on coaching and start teaching players to properly tackle.
There needs to be an emphasis on teaching coaches proper techniques who can then relay it to youth players. By instilling safer drills and safer tackling methods, younger players will develop muscle memory and begin to ensure that they are tackling players to prevent them from scoring and gaining more yards, rather than looking for doing what is necessary to cause turnovers. Players who have a tendency to look for turnovers tend to lead with the helmet and lead with their bodies rather than staying low, looking to drive the shoulder pads into the hips and core, keeping your head up, and keep moving those legs until the tackle is complete.
Unfortunately, many youth coaches from pee wee up to high school football weren’t former players or played a very low level of football.
Coaches should now have to take classes and take certification tests in order to become a coach. Classes should be taught by former coaches, players, and referees to ensure it is a high quality education. When coaches are certified, youth players’ health and safety is now in better hands. Yes, injuries are a part of every game, but if you can reduce the risk and chances of injuries through education, the game can get safer.
Another thing to do is make safer equipment. The University of Alabama at Birmingham partnered with tech company VICIS in 2017 to redesign and test a safer football helmet that can absorb more energy and lessen the impact to the head. However, issues they are having are supplying helmets to youth players because of the cost ($1,500 per helmet) and comfort. Players that have previously tried using the helmet have complained about the chin straps popping off and forehead discomfort.
If these helmets do in fact keep players safer by reducing head trauma, then the NFL should make this the go-to and mandated helmet. Players will have to deal with the lack of comfort issues, like anything else in sports safety should always take precedence over comfort.
If changes aren’t made quickly, more and more injuries will occur. Through the media and Hollywood, fans of the game are now more knowledgeable about concussions, head trauma related injuries, and CTE. The NFL has taken baby steps to protect players by tacking on more rules and penalties on helmet to helmet hits, hitting a defenseless player, and roughing quarterbacks. So far, it still hasn’t done much being that in just one Monday night game, three separate incidents occurred.
Players need to be taught again and again on all levels, including the NFL, to ensure safer play. Safer equipment needs to be accessible and provided to players to protect them from head, neck, and spine related injuries. Until that happens, the sport of football will continue to see players young and old have concussions and injuries during the duration that they play, and maybe even long after they hang up their spikes.
Football is never going anywhere. Football is a multibillion dollar industry that has too much to lose if football were gone. So while players play, make the game safer so players will live pain free and healthy lives long after they are done playing the sport that millions and millions of people love to watch and hundreds of thousands love to play.