NFL must continue to improve player safety

Hunter Gill, Sports Editor

The 2017 NFL season has been marred by injuries to some of the game’s biggest stars,  highlighting the current, dangerous state of football. During the Dec. 4th football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals alone there were three serious injuries. Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered the most severe injury of the night when he hurt his spine making a tackle. He had no feeling in his legs as he was taken off of the field. He has since had spinal fusion surgery and is stable condition. His future in football, however, is in question.

In addition to this, Bengals running back Joe Mixon was knocked unconscious after taking a hit to the head and linebacker Vontaze Burfict was injured after he took a blindside hit by Steelers wide receiver JuJu-Smith Schuster.

Those only add to the growing total of NFL injuries this season, which includes likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Aaron Rodgers. As of December 8, 578 players are currently on an injury report. While being on an injury report does not necessarily mean that the injury is serious or season ending, the incredibly high number speaks to the physical nature of the sport.

Recently, football has been linked to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Boston University defined CTE as “a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma.” While the NFL denies any link, many recently deceased football players have been shown to have it. As of now, CTE can only be definitively diagnosed by studying brain tissue post-mortem, but studies are being done to diagnose it in living patients.

The NFL has claimed to put more emphasis on concussions and empowering referees to remove a player from the game if they show signs of a concussion. However, that was shown to be a largely ineffective this past weekend when Houston Texans quarterback (QB) Tom Savage took a brutal hit to the head, after which he seemed to have a small seizure. He then was allowed to come back in the game for a whole drive before being removed for a concussion. Anyone with any knowledge of injuries in the slightest could have determined that you should not return to a game after having what looks to be a seizure after a hit to the head.

Granted, football is a physical sport and would not be the same without the physicality, but there is a difference between a physical game and a violent one. No person, regardless of how much money they make, should have to be at risk of lifelong in injury every time they step onto the field.

Luckily, outside companies are working to improve player safety when the NFL is not. A company called Vicis created a football helmet that ranked first in an NFL players association study on helmet safety. The helmet combines a soft outer layer supported by a layer of “columns” that bend in multiple directions on impact, lessening the impact force on one’s head. Past helmets have not been designed to yield to impact forces.

The facemask of these helmets also provide a wider field of vision, lessening the chance of a player not being able to see, and therefore not bracing for, an oncoming collision.

In addition to this, trainers in the NFL are learning more and more about how to properly train athletes to reduce the number of non-contact injuries. Trainers have recently found that exercises that isolate certain muscles like the hamstrings do little to prevent pulled hamstrings. Instead, trainers found that having athletes do exercises where they are sprinting as they would in a game reduce the number of non-contact injuries that the athletes suffer.

Will football be around in 50 years? Without major safety changes, it is very unlikely. Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game, but lasting and/or permanent injuries have no place in the game of football and will rightfully deter participation. No sport should put one’s lasting health at risk.