How Well Are We Protecting NFL Players?

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 13: Dan Orlovsky #6 of the Indianapolis Colts fumbles the ball after being hit by Jeremy Mincey #94 of the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 13, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Jaguars won 17-3. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Editor's Note: In a move that unintentionally comes on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the Affordable Care Act, we welcome Megan Brown to Stampede Blue as a featured writer, with her first article focusing on NFL player health and safety. -Brad

As much as Colts fans don't want to, let's flash back to Super Bowl XLIV for a moment.

Saints vs. Colts.

We know how it ended, but it was recently revealed that the now-infamous bounty system – that is, paid bonuses for knockout hits – that the New Orleans Saints had in place actually began in 2009. It's also believed that former Colts star quarterback Peyton Manning was deliberately targeted in the Super Bowl. While this might seem inconsequential some three years later, the bounty system is a premiere example of the lack of responsibility the NFL – and its teams – are taking to ensure player safety.

The reality of football

The lifespan of the average male is about 75 years. It's estimated, however, that the average lifespan of an NFL athlete is anywhere from 51 to 58 years. Think about the concussions alone. Many players have alleged the NFL has hidden information related to football-related head traumas and resulting permanent brain injuries, such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease, among others. This phenomenon has led to a lawsuit that presently involves thousands of former players, from kickers to wide receivers.

Possible solutions

Many players allege that fulfilling their dream of playing in the NFL is worth the risk of injury. Indeed, with reliable health insurance and quality healthcare, many players new to the league may feel invincible. However, the question remains: What can the league and its individual teams do to ensure player safety is enhanced to its fullest extent? Let's take a look at some potential solutions:

  • Concussion tests: We all know how serious concussions are. While there's no sure-fire way to prevent them, certain precautions can be taken to ensure players aren't playing with concussion-like symptoms. For instance, the National Hockey League makes players that have been rattled by big hits go to a "quiet room" and undergo further evaluation before a concussion is ruled out and they can reenter the game. Something similar could be implemented by the NFL or by individual teams if the league is unwilling to step up.
  • Better helmet technology: More and more companies are investing in research and development of more protective helmets. Better helmet padding and technology could go a long way toward preventing head injuries suffered during practice and/or game time.
  • Rule changes: Although changing the rules of the game is an extreme measure, some amendments could increase player safety. For instance, while helmet-to-helmet hits have been outlawed, the league could take measures to ensure more violent open-field hits are minimized.
  • Exit counseling: The NFL should take more of an active role in the mental health of players following an athlete's departure from the game. All we need to do is remember the Junior Seau suicide to realize how important exit counseling and continued mental health counseling can be for a player after he leaves the game.

Football is a violent game and fans love to see big hits. However, fans also like to see the best players in the league playing. There's no one magic solution to prevent injuries, but a greater commitment to player safety is a start.

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