BY KYLE MYERS – FAN FUEL BLOGGER
Perhaps the biggest story of the NFL’s Wildcard weekend was Washington Redskins quarterback and potential offensive rookie of the year Robert Griffin III’s gruesome knee injury near the end of a Redskins loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Griffin, who was already wearing a knee brace due to a prior injury weeks before, leaned down to recover a botched snap by the centre, when his injured right knee gave way and contorted in a way no human limb should ever bend. It is rumoured that the young star could miss the next 14-18 months with a tear of his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) in his right knee.
The injury capped an NFL season which saw more than its fair share of concussions, broken limbs, and torn ligaments. In recent years there has been a shift in the emphasis of the league to preventing these types of injury, where possible, but the question remains whether these efforts have worked.
In a word, the answer is no.
NFL players are still getting concussed as often as in years past, and there are several factors responsible. One prime reason for the multitude of concussions in today’s NFL lies with defensive players and how they tackle.
It has almost become uncommon in the NFL today to see a defensive player get low, put their helmet on the ball, and wrap up an opposing wide receiver or running back, regardless of the fact that this is the way every player is taught to tackle when they first play football.
The emphasis for defenders in the NFL today is on huge hits, and players often lead with their helmet to deliver a crushing blow to the ball-carrier. The purpose of a football helmet for defenders has changed from a form of protection to a weapon meant to injure opposing players.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, with all his flaws, has attempted to curb these violent hits by fining players for helmet-to-helmet contact or high hits on defenseless receivers, but the reaction from both the players and much of the fan base has been one of ridicule. The hyper-masculine culture which surrounds contact sports like football is one which almost immediately disregards any attempts to make a sport safer as ‘pussifying’ it, and until this mentality changes, we will see the number of injuries in these sports remain fairly constant.
This practice of a player hiding or fighting through an injury is one which permeates the entire league. Earlier this year New York Jets quarterback Greg McElroy admitted that he hid a concussion from his coaches to be able to stay in the game, and he is far from the only player to stay in a game only to be deactivated the next week with a concussion.
While it is easy for people like myself to talk about how stupid it is for players to risk long-term injury merely to stay in a game, the fact of the matter is that players are continually in competition for starting spots, and leaving a game with an injury is a quick way to lose one. Not to mention the fact that the NFL in particular is a hyper-masculine league in which taking yourself out of a game is a sure way to let your teammates know that you are ‘soft’.
For these reasons, players cannot be taken to be accurate judges of their own health when it comes to safety in sport. These are professional athletes who, throughout their entire careers, have been encouraged to play through pain and adversity to compete for glory.
The NFL has attempted to step-up their sideline injury reporting procedures, namely concussions, by requiring players to be cleared by team medical personnel. However, the lack of consistency across the board in regards to what defines a concussion, as well as the incentive for medical personnel on the team’s payroll to put players back into the game have undermined the goals of the legislation.
Until the mentality surrounding physical sports like football changes, we will continue to see players injured in high numbers. There must be widespread regulations and procedures to be followed by athletes and organizations to ensure the health of sports stars for years to come; otherwise we will see the next RGIII put his career in jeopardy for one measly football game.
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