The League

Dr. Mark Adickes
Orthopedic surgeon, former Redskin

Dr. Mark Adickes

Former Redskins' offensive lineman turned Harvard- trained orthopedic surgeon

Use your head?

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This weekend will forever be remembered for the devastation resulting from helmet-to-helmet hits. Ray Anderson, the NFL's vice president of football operations, stated Monday that the league may soon start suspending players for such blows. Miami Dolphins safety, Yeremiah Bell countered by saying that he felt the league was becoming too strict on helmet-to-helmet hits. Bell went on to explain, by describing the difficulties inherent in trying to make a tackle while simultaneously focusing on avoiding helmet collisions.

When the newly designed helmets arrived over the past few seasons it was my hope that concussions would be reduced. It appears the opposite has resulted as players are now initiating contact with the helmet with renewed vigor and violence. This could be due in part to the fact that vicious blows now cause decreased symptoms to the one initiating the contact. This is not always the case however as evidenced by the helmet-to-helmet hit Dunta Robinson leveled on DeSean Jackson that resulted in both players leaving the game.

Football is certainly a violent and macho game. The goal is to hit harder than your opponent and be tougher than your opponent. Weakness is not tolerated. Most who play the game on the professional level take pride in the fact that they do for a living something that would never be attempted by the general public for fear of injury. Football fans revel in the "big hit" and such plays dominate the conversation around the water cooler. The question is, can the essence of the game be preserved while protecting the combatants?

I believe the answer is yes and suspensions leveled by the NFL, which surely will come to pass in short order, are a good start. Already rules are in place to protect the quarterback, the defenseless receiver and players on the kickoff and kickoff return teams. In 2009 the NFL eliminated the use of a "wedge" of more than two players on kickoff returns. The use of a two-man wedge should be eliminated as well forcing man-to-man blocking assignments on this special team. All players in the open field should be protected from helmet-to-helmet hits. As a former offensive lineman it was on interceptions where most of my concussions occurred. Defensive linemen given the opportunity to even the score against their offensive counterparts enjoyed the chance to dish out some punishment in this scenario. I had no animus if blindsided by a defensive player on an interception return.

When I played it was against code to intentionally injure another player. It is important to note however that a concussion was not considered an injury, it was just considered to be part of the game. A helmet-to-helmet hit that led to a player being removed from competition was called a "snot bubbler" and considered a "clean hit." I gave the issue little if any thought. Now that I am a physician with a son that plays high school football my perspective has changed...dramatically.

Everyone who participated in full contact football from little league, to junior high school, to high school and beyond looks to the NFL players to show them how to play the game. The style of play observed on Sundays is taken to the practice fields and the stadiums by the players at every other level. The time has come to ensure that the example set by the pros will lead to the safest competition possible at all levels downstream. I applaud the NFL for the proposed suspensions and realize that the subjective determination of hit legality will be difficult and regularly controversial but it must be done. I fully expect rules changes at the collegiate and high school level to fall in line with policies implemented by the NFL. Although selfishly motivated, I look forward to watching my son play with the knowledge that everything possible is being done to ensure his safety. The message is simple...don't use your head.

By Dr. Mark Adickes  |  October 19, 2010; 8:52 AM ET  | Category:  Concussions , NFL , NFL Rules , Roger Goodell Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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