April 22, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Changing starts is more about avoiding catastrophic injuries than reducing concussions

Changing starts is more about avoiding catastrophic injuries than reducing concussions

Several years ago, the NFL publicly described the kickoff as the most dangerous play in the game. The league then embarked on an effort not to make play safer, but to make it happen less frequently.

It worked. very good.

As competition committee chairman Rich McKay explained in a conference call Thursday regarding this year's proposed rule changes, the 2010 season saw 416 kickoff returns and 45,000 kickoff return yards. In 2023, there were 1,970 touchdowns and just 13,000 kickoff return yards.

In Super Bowl LVIII, all 13 kickoffs resulted in touchdowns. As McKay pointed out, 12 of them landed outside the end zone.

“We took a lot out of the game,” McKay said. “It's a very exciting play.”

Now, the league is considering a radical change, where the kickoff goes from being a meaningless play to a kickoff that results in a comeback almost every time it occurs. If the changes to kickoffs are fueled by an uptick in concussions, then pumping hundreds of additional live plays into the game over the course of a season will almost certainly lead to more concussions.

This may seem confusing. But the truth is, it's not about concussions. It's about catastrophic injuries, like the one suffered in 2007 by former Bills tight end Kevin Everett and the one suffered in 2010 by former Rutgers defensive lineman Eric LeGrand.

The problem is not communication, it is high-speed collisions. Two players running towards each other. They reach maximum speed. They instinctively dip their helmets just before impact. Forces are likely to build up in the player's cervical spine. The bone can break, possibly damage the spinal cord, possibly lead to serious injury, or worse.

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This is what the league is trying to avoid more than anything else. Concussions will happen in football. Serious neck injuries are most likely to occur when two players run toward each other at extreme speeds and collide while going in opposite directions. The physics of the collision imposes enormous forces on potentially sensitive areas of the body.

Although the league rarely expresses such terms, McKay alluded to that concern Thursday.

“We have to reduce the space and speed that this play has historically had,” McKay said. “Space and speed have created an injury factor, and it's time to change that.”

Think about what it would mean for the league to face a Damar Hamelin-style situation that resulted not from a fortunate blow to the chest but from a predictable blow to the head. The NFL has, for the most part, weathered the storm of parents preventing their children from playing football. If a player were to suffer permanent paralysis or die on the field due to a broken neck sustained in a high-speed crash during kick-off, the supply of future professional football players could be cut off immediately.

During a July 2022 filing in the lawsuit over whether the NFL would be able to impose the cost of concussion settlements on its insurers, Commissioner Roger Goodell downplayed the connection between kids not playing football and not having enough football players. Professional football at last.

“I wasn't worried about the NFL playoff because very few kids who were playing youth football made it to the NFL,” Goodell said on page 271 of the transcript, a copy of which was obtained by PFT. “I [sic] Maybe it's less than one percent. So I don't think it will affect us.”

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I think it will. Some of those “less than one percent” who become highly skilled footballers may end up focusing on a different sport, if their parents take them away from football if/when 20 million or more witness permanent paralysis or worse on the field during the period certain time frame. Game.

Regardless, that's what the league is trying to avoid. If it was about reducing concussions, they would get rid of the kickoff and put the ball at the 25. That's a way to eliminate the risk of something much worse than a concussion.

The good news is that the current proposal should do that, by bringing most players together into a space where they won't be able to reach the highest possible speed and collide while moving in opposite directions.