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Where are sports headed?

By Dan Beck

I am only human. I enjoy watching the big hits in football and a good old fashion hockey brawl. As a fan, it fires me up and ignites the testosterone inside me. But I can’t help but think, as I spend Saturdays and Sundays watching hours of football, that this can’t continue.

Photo by NYTimes.com

Photo by NYTimes.com

The NFL recently settled a massive mega-millions lawsuit that former players waged against the league in search of compensation for the NFL turning a blind eye head-related injuries these players suffered. Players like former Eagles star Andre Waters and Chargers All-Pro Junior Seau tragically committed suicide in the past few years, the result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The countless amount of hits these two men during their football careers, from Pop Warner all the way up to the NFL, took its toll on them, ultimately leading to their untimely deaths.

The NFL has made amendments to its rulebook in the past few years in hopes of directing hits against players below the head area. Penalties and fines loom for the players who are guilty of “helmet-to-helmet” hits against players. The rule calls upon defensive players, moving at the normal fast-paced speed of the sport, to consciously hit below the head, a daunting task for someone whose livelihood depends on his ability to take a player down. It’s often difficult for a player get a ball carrier down, let alone insure that his hit is below the head within the rules.

The result? Knee injuries. The league has seen a rapid spike in knee injuries, most notably ACL tears, as a result of defensive players aiming below the head area. The NFL finds itself in a catch-22. If they were to continue to allow helmet-to-helmet hits, concussions would rise, and with their current rules, knee injuries keep rising.

On one hand, head injuries lead to devastated futures for players that may include CTE. On the other hand are knee injuries, which end a player’s season, and lead to months of rehabilitation, never insuring a full recovery.  Pick your poison, running backs and wide receivers.

The change in the rulebook has dramatically changed the game of football. Players inadvertently lead with their helmet into the helmet of the opposing players, resulting in a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down. These game-changing moments affect momentum and ultimately, the outcome of games. Could we see a future rule that bans hits below the waist to stop knee injuries? Imagine that: defensive players only being allowed to hit a player in the torso.

Many believe the sport has been “softened” and the ultimate integrity of the traditionally brutal game has been damaged due to these rules changes. But is the softening of football worth possibly saving the lives of a few players down the line?

The landscape of football and hockey may been very different in a decade. The game continues to get faster and the players continue to get stronger. This, of course, will lead to more injuries and more rule amendments. Sports will continue to be stripped of their core rules, replacing them with safer alternatives.

Furthermore, many parents have pledged to not allow their children to play sports like football and hockey for fear of injury and brain-related issues. Count me in as one of those (future) parents. I don’t know where these violent sports are headed, but I do not want my future children apart of it.

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