The Daily Gamecock

Player's safety key to future NFL success

Organization should make it their mission to prevent unnecessary injuries

Those who watch NFL football understand that it is a dangerous sport. Every week, players of seemingly every position are injured in different ways. Running backs suffer concussions, linebackers tear ligaments, and quarterbacks endure shoulder injuries. While many see these injuries as an unavoidable consequence of such an exciting game, they are deserving of a closer look.

Junior Seau is one of many players for which, unfortunately, things did not end well. After receiving numerous accolades, and making a dozen trips to the pro bowl over the course of an impressive 20-year NFL career, he was found dead in his Oceanside, Calif., home last May.

The cause of his death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Many have speculated that there may have been a connection between his suicide and the numerous hits he absorbed in the NFL, as the popular and otherwise healthy former player suffered from mood swings, insomnia and depression after he retired from football. These fears were only heightened when a later test by the National Institutes of Health revealed that at the point of his death Seau suffered from degenerative brain disease.

Seau’s story should serve as a call to action in addressing player safety and injuries. Each year, more and more star players, from Troy Aikman to Adrian Peterson, speak out and say they won’t let their sons play football out of concern for their safety.

Their concern is well-justified, as the amount of time players miss from a head injury has been increasing every year since 2004. Players worry about themselves, too, as it only takes a few minutes of watching the annual pro bowl to realize that there isn’t really any competition going on, as that would increase their chances of injury.

To address this, the NFL should take a comprehensive approach, leaving every option on the table. Designing new helmets that absorb more of the impact from each tackle would be a good place to start. Changing the rules to further discourage dirty hits, such as Clay Matthews’ out-of-bounds tackle on Colin Kaepernick, would be another good reform.

Giving team doctors and athletic trainers more of a say in whether a player plays or not is another possible remedy. The Redskins did this with star quarterback Robert Griffin III after he suffered a major injury during their playoff loss to the Seahawks last season.

As much as football is a sport popularized by physical contact and big hits, it must be acknowledged that the same hits that deliver high TV ratings could eventually lead to the downfall of the league.

If player safety is not improved, more people are going to follow the lead of Troy Aikman and Adrian Peterson and tell their sons not to play football. Players cut from a team will decide that they’d rather retire than play a few more years and risk permanent injury. Fans will become compelled by stories of those like Junior Seau and demand changes. Those consequences would be hard on many both inside and outside the NFL. Ultimately, the only way for the NFL to prevent these consequences is for them to be more aggressive in treating injuries and protecting players..