Well, these guys play a tough game – kill or be killed every Sunday for 16 weeks plus playoffs. Who knows how many blows those brains have sustained inside those helmets? The question certainly deserves raising.
How much impact are those heads sustaining? And how much trauma are their brains experiencing?
Sports scientists have designed devices to assess these questions like head monitors and helmet sensors. Finally, some data to support or deny the claims of manufacturers who say their products “prevent” concussions.
Then I read “Eddie Lacy wore an in game concussion monitor and special concussion proof helmet and he got a concussion.” Lacy, a running back for the Green Bay Packers, was sporting the news Riddell Speed Flex, which has a built-in shock absorber on the crown of the helmet and is touted as reducing concussions. The thing sends information to someone on the sidelines who monitors when, where, and how hard the helmet has been impacted.
That data revealed that Lacy — who ran for 32 yards on 12 carries — sustained enough repeated impact to merit a concussion diagnosis (or at least an investigation into whether he was, in fact, concussed). “Lacy wears a new helmet designed to prevent concussions, and gets a concussion,” according to the sideline report.
So, either the helmet doesn’t work or the helmet doesn’t work. That is, either it’s not reporting properly or it’s not protecting properly. In all likelihood, the impacts are there and the brain injury is not prevented. Those sensors indicate that most NFL running backs – 12 carries for 32 yards is not a career day – sustain an unhealthy amount of cranial impact during the course of football game.
If this surprises you, it shouldn’t. Not just because of the strength of the hits, which is astronomical and increasing, but because while helmets distribute the impact to the skull, even space-age cushioning does little to alleviate the acceleration experienced by the brain. And glancing blows can be even more damaging than head on collisions.
I asked a well-known orthopedist about this issue and he surprised me with his response:
Concussions began when players started wearing helmets.
His observation was this: before helmets, players used their bodies to maneuver into position and make a play. They would never lead with their head and certainly not use their head as a weapon to drive into or spear an opponent. Now, they think nothing of it because their head is covered with what they think will protect it.
Well, the helmet doesn’t protect it. Not the head and certainly not the brain.
Nothing in our body will work well and function well if we don’t take care of it, yet, we take them for granted. We figure we can subject them to extensive wear and tear and expect them to recover. We even abuse them and suppose they won’t show a lasting impact. Give it time and everything recovers, right? Well, no.
- No sunscreen? Skin cancer.
- No dietary boundaries? Diabetes.
- No exercise? Heart disease.
- No limits on smoking? Stroke. Cancer. Heart attack
- No limits on alcohol? Vascular disease.
- No stress management? Heart attack.
- No limits on screen time? You tell me.
We are a society that doesn’t like limits. Somehow our Maker knew we would be this way and kindly encased our most important organs in protective compartments: our hearts and lungs have the rib cage, our brains have the skull and surrounding membranes and a fluid compartment that is nearly incompressible. Still, we manage to injure and to keep injuring.
I wonder what would happen if the NFL outlawed helmets. We would probably be horrified to see those 300 lb guys going after each other without any protection on their heads. But at least we would be looking at the real story: heads are not protected from brain injury by helmets – even those with the finest engineering design – and brains are the losers. Every crunch would be the sound of impending injury.
And that injury, as Rice and Peterson may have shown us, may not just be inflicted on the players themselves. It may extend to those nearby who are innocent and unsuspecting.
Should Rice and Peterson beheld responsible for their behaviors? Absolutely.
The question is: are the rest of us culpable as well? If we’re gonna call our kill-or-be-killed-combat events, sport, then we had better be ready to live with the consequences.