The NFL would dearly love the concussion issue to go away. It won’t — pro football is based on its participants repeatedly colliding with the force of an auto accident. The league can write new rules about where players can hit each other, but it can’t write new rules for physics.
No helmet is going to keep the human brain from colliding with its casing under such conditions, and that’s the source of concussions.
One curious aspect of the concussion issue has been the amount of player resistance to the rule changes imposed by the league.
The rules, for example, require that a player suspected of having been concussed be pulled from play. This decision is not left to the player or his coaches, but to the medical staff.
In a league in which player contracts are not binding on the team, that rule can threaten a player’s livelihood. In a culture that honors playing through injury and pain, that rule can threaten a player’s sense of honor.
It’s no real surprise, then, that in at least one instance this year a player, diagnosed with a concussion, managed to retrieve his helmet and return to the field for a play. (He was then pulled again.)
Another area of resistance has come to the penalties and fines for hits to the head. Defensive players grumble about the restrictions, meant as much for their safety as for the opponents’. Some defensive players have responded by going for the opponent’s legs when tackling; some offensive players, seeing a threat to their knees and mistakenly viewing concussions as a short-term injury, have said they’d rather be hit in the head.
Concussions, of course, are not merely short-term injuries. Their repercussions can reverberate for decades. Many of the thousands of former players involved in a major class-action federal court case against the league are essentially incapacitated by repeated brain trauma.