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Dan Levy
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Dan Levy

The host of On the DL with new episodes every weekday.

Call me an NFL Rubbernecker


You know, I was going to bring a sign about this very topic to Monday night's game...

For nearly five years, I spent at least two hours a day traversing either the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway. You see a lot of crazy things when driving two of the most trafficked roads in America, but nothing sticks with you like a seven-car pileup or a minivan engulfed in flames. It's both terrifying and tantalizing all at once.

And that's football. We watch for the open roads and high speeds, but we remember the collisions and whatever the football-equivalent of a car fire may be. While I'm writing this, I constantly get distracted by tweets of the weekend's top hits in college or the pros. Oooh, did you see that Ga Tech hit? Oh man, did you catch Adrian Peterson bowling over William Gay? Destructive hits aren't just part of the game -- they're what we remember most.

You know what's the worst thing about this whole concept? I don't feel bad about it at all. Players know what they are getting themselves into when they strap on a helmet. I cannot believe some players still wear the older style helmets when the advances in technology have come so far with anti-concussion protection. Sure, there's more research to be done, and sure I've seen the studies and listened to Malcolm Gladwell preach about how even small collisions between linemen can cause debilitating damage to the brain when those small collisions are repeated 50 or 60 times a week. But I don't really care. That's part of the job description. It's just like I don't care when a guy works on a loading dock for 30 years and has chronic back problems or when the court stenographer gets carpal tunnel syndrome. What the heck did you think was going to happen?

I would not begrudge a player for quitting sports in fear of injury just like I wouldn't begrudge an employee for quitting their job -- any job -- if they didn't feel the safety measures were up to code. But if you show up for work, do your job. And in the NFL, that means smashing mouths.

Now, the question posed is if we think the NFL can still excite fans with less mouth smashing and more emphasis put on safety. The short answer: no. People are irate -- football people -- when the rules come out each year to further protect the quarterback. You can't hit their heads. You can't hit their knees. You can't push them after the ball is thrown. They might as well start wearing pinnies during the actual games! So no, if people are complaining about protecting a quarterback, imagine what they'll say about more flags and fines coming out for big hits. The headlines will rain down: NFL to become NFFL - National Flag Football League.

It will not work. After a week's worth of frustration at work, our senses are on overload. We need a release and rather than punch a wall, most Americans release that energy vicariously through their team colors. Yellow flags just make us angrier -- especially those tucked into players' pants.

Now, before the hate mail starts, let me say this: it is not only the responsibility, but the obligation, of the NFL to ensure the safety of its players, sideline personnel and officials. It's imperative that all members of the NFL umbrella get the best safety and medical care available. If it costs money for the NFL to do a thousand studies on the brain and clinical trial after clinical trial to come up with the right combination of helmet, neck support and shoulder pads to reduce debilitating injuries, they need to spend that money. Actually, they should double it to make sure they stay ahead of the curve.

Safety is important. But that doesn't mean I still won't be tantalized by the pile-up every week.

By Dan Levy  |  October 28, 2009; 6:07 AM ET  | Category:  Concussions , Dan Levy , Medical , NFL , Roger Goodell Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The underlying logic behind this piece is that acceptance of risk obviates the need to reduce that risk. Black lung came with the job of mining coal, but what the heck, those miner's knew it when they picked up their shovels and picks. Cars crash all the time anyway, there's no real need to design crush resistant vehicles or energy draining crumple barriers much less nuisance items like air bags and seat belts. One of the easiest limits the NFL can introduce to reduce the collision energy of players is to simply cap the players' weights at 250lb. The NFL would be doing itself a long-term favor. Already it is seeing older heavy players dying at young ages, in their 50s. How long before the survivors start suing the NFL for enticing them into unhealthy lifestyles?
"Twenty years ago, it was rare for a player to weigh 300 pounds. But more than 500 players were listed at that weight or more on NFL training-camp rosters this summer -- including San Francisco 49ers guard Thomas Herrion, who collapsed and died after an exhibition game in August.

The relatively recent explosion in the number of 300-pound linemen 'presents a frightening picture in terms of what we might expect 20 years from now,' said Dr. Sherry Baron, who studied the issue in 1994 for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Baron's study, conducted at the request of the NFL Players Association, found that while players generally weren't dying sooner than average, offensive and defensive linemen had a 52 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than the general population."

Posted by: observer57 | October 28, 2009 7:49 AM

This seems a little one breath you’re saying that the football players, dock workers and stenographers should stop complaining about their work related injuries, because that’s the nature of their work. But then you say overstressed Americans need the “mouth smashing” to release tension from their own work frustrations.

Instead of relying on others to relieve your tension, and in the process, jeopardizing their future health and well-being, maybe you should quit your stressful job.

Posted by: bschall | October 28, 2009 8:40 AM

If the only problem were NFL players, the absurd logic of this might be accepted (if you don't like slavery, then why did you become a slave? if you don't like a job without health benefits, then get one that has them.) The problem is not NFL retirees, but the thousands of college and h.s. players who are piling up injuries emulating them. Anyone who has played knows the indifference of coaches and fellow players to injuries that do not result in immediate loss of playing time.

Posted by: dane1 | October 28, 2009 10:03 AM

Just because players know what they are getting into doesn't make it right. Prostitutes know what they are getting into, as do crack addicts. Last time I checked, these were not legal either.

Where do the vast majority of these players come from? Sure you have wealthy, privileged people playing the game, but many of these players are trying to transcend poverty.

Also - society pays a price for an industry that cranks out people who become dependent on our healthcare system. Society is also desensitized to violence. When we wonder why violent crime is such a part of America, let's think about how long it takes for us to see someone get paralyzed, then get back to our chips and beer and wait for the next play.

Posted by: spaceman2 | October 28, 2009 11:14 AM

How about adopting these two rules:

1. If a player illegally injures a player, they must sit out as long as the injured players is out.

2. Change the helmet to a maskless foam rubber cap. This will keep players from using their helmet as a weapon. Only the quarterback uses a regulation helmet as we know it.

Posted by: spaceman2 | October 28, 2009 11:19 AM

All Levy is doing is defending his fetish for "big hits". I suppose he is lucky to have a legal one, many fetishes aren't. He is just sticking up for his, nothing to with football really.

Posted by: PatD1 | October 28, 2009 1:57 PM

Hey Dan Levy - suggested reading: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. You've got to be kidding me with this post.

Posted by: stephl6 | October 28, 2009 7:34 PM

If we know the NFL will go out of business if we reign in the insanity that goes on the field and make it more resemble the beautiful game that it is, then we need to be asking questions of who we are as a society.

Turn off the twitters if nincompoops want to point out stupid hits. It's not relative to the outcome of the game.

For every hit you see, picture yourself taking it. It's not a cool thing to get your bell rung, I don't care if you're in afghanistan or on a gridiron.

Posted by: Meepo | October 29, 2009 12:52 PM

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