NFL Confronts Player Safety

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

The NFL season started back up a few weeks ago, which means it’s time to return to a controversial topic that hovers over the league every year: concussions.

For many years, the NFL was lax in dealing with the issue of concussions, but the league has done a better job in recent years.

The NFL announced in 2010 that it would start suspending players for illegal helmet-to-helmet hits, and though it’s difficult to tell if this action has helped reduce these hits, it was a move the league had to make. Furthermore, on August 29, the NFL agreed to pay almost $800 million to thousands of retired players who have suffered from various health issues in the wake of their playing days.

After an illegal hit in a game last week, Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers All-Pro safety, is facing a fine of up to $100,000 for repeatedly violating the rules put in place to ensure player safety. Goldson has been flagged 15 times for personal foul penalties since 2010, and my only issue with his punishment is that he hasn’t been suspended.

Repeat offenders like Goldson need to continue to be strongly disciplined for their actions, and not after 15 offenses. The first helmet-to-helmet offense should be a hefty fine, the second a much greater one, and the third an automatic suspension. These hits are, at times, unavoidable, and it is important for the league to carefully decide if players had the intention of leading with their helmet on a tackle or if the head-to-head contact was incidental. If there’s any doubt about intent, then the league should err on the side of disciplining the player.

Evidence of concussions’ adverse long-term health effects has only come to light in more recent years, so it’s no surprise that the number of players harmed by post-concussion symptoms is large.

A number of players, including 10-time All-Pro Junior Seau, have committed suicide after the end of their playing days. Autopsies found that many of them suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a type of brain damage that stems from repeated concussions.

Football is a violent game and injuries are an unavoidable byproduct, but that was no excuse for the league to stand by idly and accept that fact. It has always been up to the league to ensure that every player has the best possible chance of avoiding concussions.

Though it appears that the NFL is taking steps in the right direction, it may be years before we see if what the league is doing now is truly going to help players avoid the pain and suffering they experience in the aftermath of concussions.

Football is America’s most watched sport, and though the NFL is improving it’s player safety policies, it’s high time the league does right by the players who perform in front of millions of fans every week. The obvious next step for the league is implementing a three-strike system to better deter players from hitting with their helmets. Until legislation like that is put in place, the NFL will continue to have one of the biggest issues in sports on its hands.