By: Brian Sibila
Today, at the NFL owners meetings in Atlanta, one of the topics covered was that of player safety. This is obviously warranted in light of the ever-increasing trend of actually caring about the well being of the players that put their bodies on the line for the sport we all love. Or, I guess I should say, the perception of caring about the players’ safety. The result of the discussions was a new policy to make knee and thigh pads mandatory. To say that this is window dressing is probably a discredit to curtains and drapes everywhere.
Now, I don’t want to downplay any actual benefits that may come with the mandate of wearing the knee and thigh pads. I actually don’t know how much they protect the players, nor do I care. What this reeks of is more of the same from the brass of the NFL when trying to maintain this perception of consideration of players’ safety. The League is currently embroiled in at least 80 lawsuits brought forth by former players alleging that they were mislead in the understanding of the long term effects of concussions. The owners and executives of the NFL are feeling pressure from these lawsuits, as well as the media, to do more to protect the purveyors of their sport. So, the response is to show an increased amount of concern for their players’ long term health by making them wear thigh pads.
While the extent of the connection between concussions suffered while playing the game and the onset of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is still in the process of being proven, what is known is that the game will always have a violent nature to it, regardless of rule-changes and fines imposed on the players. The players want to play fast and hit hard, and the coaches encourage that type of play. There’s only so much that can be done from a rule standpoint.
A few weeks back on The F*BALL NFL Podcast, we spent a good amount of the show discussing concussions and the League’s response to this issue. My main argument kept coming back to equipment technology and the room for improvement therein. We brought up a topic that had about three days worth of coverage by a few media outlets last December. I’m speaking of the Kevlar helmet lining that was inserted into James Harrison’s headgear prior to his suiting up for the rematch against the Ravens in Week 9 of last season. As was reported in this story at theclassical.org, Harrison was elated that after using this product he didn’t experience the usual head ringing and headaches that he was used to.
UNEQUAL Technologies is the manufacturer of the product in question, and if you visit their website you will see that they produce a variety of products aimed at protecting various body parts, and the Concussion Reduction Technology pads are but just one. I am certainly not endorsing this company, but rather this approach to fix the problem. I would like to point out that the Kevlar pads this company is selling are listed at $69.95. This caught me as a bit surprising. Mainly for the fact that such a cost-effective improvement is a potential response to this issue. These pads are basically just sheets that you cut out and attach to the inside of the helmet, or wherever you are trying to protect. This is exactly the type of technological advance I was thinking of during our podcast. Why can’t the entire inside of a football helmet have a layer of this type of padding? If it’s a matter of less than $100, why can’t all helmets, at all levels of the game, have this type of technology? Why can’t we get NFL people in the same room with people at Ridell and Schutt, and the people at this company? (or perhaps another company with similar products?)
The subject of concussion protection has also been prevalent in the NHL, given the violence associated with that sport, and the high-profile cases such as Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. This type of technology could help in that sport immeasurably as well.
I feel that in both hockey and football, one of the issues with the entire subject of concussions is the culture that needs to change as well. I certainly feel that there’s a lot more that could and needs to be done in order to better protect the athletes. There has already been a seismic shift in the awareness of the players about the potential effects. But the fans want the sport, and the players want to play. That much will not change. Especially with the money associated with today’s game. A lot of the players are going to eschew their safety simply in order to continue to play a game that they love, and which provides such financial success, at least at the highest of levels. Players have already come out to state that even knowing the risks involved, they will continue to play the way they play.
The connections between CTE and football-related concussions continue to need to be studied and further understood, but we know that concussions are inherently a damaging side effect of the game, and any effort to reduce them is inherently good. We also know that in the case of James Harrison last season, he was given this technology, and the $70 worth of padding seemed to work for him. Keep in mind that this course of action was pursued only when they wanted to get him back on the field sooner than had been expected. If they wanted to better protect him for that game, then why wouldn’t they want to better protect everyone that plays the game? Especially given the low cost that is associated.
Maybe it’s a bit early for me to say that this padding should be mandatory for the players, but I’m willing to bet $70 that it would help protect players more than thigh pads will.