Doug Robinson: NFL much too slow in responding to head-injuries problem

Published: Tuesday, May 8 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

That is unlikely, but the NFL does need to take a hard look at issues it would rather leave alone. When it comes to player safety, the game has been a work in progress for decades and it's still a work in progress.

As columnist Rick Reilly noted a couple of years ago, the league has been figuring this thing out one step at a time. In 1956, the NFL banned facemask tackles; in the 1960s, it banned clothesline tackles; in 1977, it banned the head slap; in the 1970s, it banned blocks below the waist; in 1979, a play was blown dead when the quarterback was in the grasp of an opponent; in 1999, clipping was banned everywhere on the field; in 2006, it banned horse-collar tackles.

He could have added more recent developments such as hitting defenseless players, hitting players away from a play, helmet-to-helmet hits, and so forth.

More drastic changes should be considered, but I don't believe they will be. No one will take this seriously, but in a column last year I suggested a weight limit. I also advocate — and this relates to the weight limit — getting serious about steroids. One observer called the NFL's drug efforts "the equivalent of our efforts to keep illegals from coming across the border. It's a show, and little more."

NFL players — and I believe many of them artificially inflated by steroids — are abnormally large men who are still as fast and athletic as small men. To make matters worse, they play their games on carpet, which makes the game faster and more brutal. Force = Mass x Acceleration.

The NFL thinks it's serious about the steroid issue; it's not. If the league wants to know what serious is, it should study the way track and field punishes those who are busted for performance-enhancing drugs. It's naive to think that football players — the athletes who have the most to gain from steroids — aren't using steroids at least as much as baseball players, track athletes and cyclists, yet it doesn't produce nearly the same number of positive tests and scandals.

A weight limit would reduce the size of the collisions on the field. It also would address another problem — the increased size of NFL players has created an epidemic of weight-related coronary disease and obesity, which undoubtedly contribute to their shortened lifespan. The Associated Press reported the increase in 300-pound NFL players — one in 1970, three in 1980, 94 in 1990, 301 in 2000 and 394 in 2009.

The league needs to study the effects of weight limits, but it won't. Not even deaths and an epidemic of concussions and dementia will be enough impetus for such dramatic change.

email: drob@desnews.com

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