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Yesterdays (Wednesday, June 6) death of former Baltimore Colt and hall of fame tight-end John Mackey, exhibits how much of a necessity fines and suspensions are for helmet-to-helmet hits.
Mackey died Wednesday from dementia, which has been linked to people who suffer concussions. Dementia is defined as, “ a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. It affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.”
Despite mounting evidence that NFL players who experience concussions are at risk to dementia, football players themselves have not been swayed to the idea that fines and suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits are the right step forward. NFL players are hypocritical when it comes to their own safety; they want to have their cake and eat it to. A majority of players don’t want to be fined or suspended for a helmet-to-helmet hit yet they are fighting for better health benefits.
There are countless examples of players saying they want to injure opposing players. This past year James Harrison of the Steelers was a perfect example. Following a game in which he hit Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs with a helmet-to-helmet collision, Harrison spoke of having the intent to hurt people on the football field yet not injure them. Harrison stated, “I don’t want to injure anybody. There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people.”
Its comments like Harrison’s that make the current NFL policy of fining players and suspending them after such types of collisions a necessity. Linebacker Channing Crowder, of the Miami Dolphins, said this past NFL season, “They give me a helmet. I’m going to use it.”
There’s an unmistakable difference between players’ helmets accidentally colliding and when they are used as weapons to tackle the opponent. Wide receiver of the San Diego Chargers, Patrick Crayton puts this difference in crystal clear fashion saying, “When you come in to tackle, sometimes helmets collide. But when a guy’s suspended in the air, and you launch yourself at his head, come on now. You can tell because usually their hands go down and it’s just a straight line to the head, a missile almost.”
Clearly, as Crayton points out, there is a difference between accidental helmet-to-helmet contact and the blatant use of a helmet as a purposeful weapon to tackle and seriously hurt opponents. Helmet to helmet contact, according to some like Yeremiah Bell, say that it’s something “which guys aren’t trying to do, but that’s just the way it is. It’s part of the game.”
Players also say that the rules in place that fine and suspend players for unintentional and intentional helmet-to-helmet hits will change the game in negative ways. Linebacker Ray Lewis, of the Baltimore Ravens, comments, “My opinion is play the game like that game is supposed to be played, and whatever happens, happens. If you go into the game thinking about any of that stuff, I’m telling you, the game will be diluted very quickly.”
A similar sentiment is shared by New York Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who warns, “This is a game of physical guys going to battle. Once you start saying to guys ‘You’ll get suspended for a game,’ that’s when you’re going to get a very, very tentative football game.”
However, these injuries like the one sustained by John Mackey, which led to his death from dementia, are more important than keeping the game the way that it is now. It’s not worth it for player’s lives to be put at risk in the short term, or the long term. The sad truth is, players’ like Mackey who suffer from dementia suffer severe side affects. More specifically, as an example, Matt Crossman of sportingnews.com shares, former Chicago Bear Larry Morris, who suffers from dementia “can’t sign his name, can’t complete basic hygiene tasks and sometimes struggles to dress himself.”
During the short term players get very good health benefits from the NFL. However, if a player is retired they get terrible health benefits. Recently, Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth and senior writer Peter King of Sports Illustrated wrote an article for King’s, Monday Morning Quarterback column.
In the article, King and Foxworth paint a vivid picture of what retired players are going through, saying, “Players who retire from the NFL leave with, at most, five years of health insurance, but often with several lifetimes worth of injuries and recurring mental health issues. Elvin Bethea, the Hall of Fame defensive end for the former Houston Oilers, for example, has had over 25 operations relating to his football career and racked up astronomical medical bills, all without the pension support.”
Better health benefits for retired players are one of the caveats players are fighting for during the current lockout that has been taking place. In reference to what plays are currently fighting for Foxworth, says, “we are fighting for things you’re more likely to find in a game of LIFE: a safer practice regimen, better pensions for former players, long-term health insurance.” Foxworth elaborates saying that it is essential to fight for these benefits because of the “number of hits to the head” that players take, which “neuroscientists have come to consider as important long-term as in-game collisions.”
Foxworth, says, “Finding a way to guarantee that the players…receive adequate health insurance is not a nicety, it is a necessity”; it is also a necessity to have policies in place to limit the amount of future health problems for current players. Fines and suspensions for intentional helmet-to-helmet hits are important to the NFL, just like it should be for the NFL’s players.
If the NFL has to dish out expensive health benefits to every retired player who sustains a concussion or suffers from dementia they could potentially go bankrupt. The NFL is trying not only to save themselves from losses of money due to potential lawsuits in the future, but also, they are trying to limit the damage done to current players body’s hoping for less cases of dementia and other series life threatening injuries when they retire. Players should realize the NFL is trying to protect them as much as the NFL is trying to protect itself.