Football is dangerous sport. We all know that by know, and we all should have known it since we first started following the game. Injuries happen each and every day. The two of us at TDC are walking examples of that. For myself, that meant a relatively mediocre knee injury. For my partner it meant a devastating knee injury that required major reconstructive surgery (though this is where I have to take a moment to remind him that it wasn’t his job to go downfield and block on a draw play…but I digress). Of course in the grand scheme of life, a knee injury is far from the same as a head injury. That said, today’s announcement that the NFL would be banning all chop blocks moving forward is a monumental step in player safety.
The NFL has done a lot to try and reduce head injuries (or at least make it appear they are), but head injuries are going to occur in the NFL and at every level that football is played. Regardless of rule changes and safety advances, large men colliding with one another will eventually, with absolute certainty, lead to head injuries. Why? Because even a perfect form tackle or block, where contact with the head is never made, won’t stop the brain from being jostled in the process of the play or stop the head from slamming into the ground. It’s simply unavoidable in the long run. Good for the NFL for taking strides (or making appearances), but any parent allowing their kid to play football or any adult playing the game has to understand that you can never mitigate risks to the brain fully.
With that said, you also can’t mitigate risks to the extremities such as the knees and lower legs. Running and cutting and changing directions will eventually cause ACLs and other bodily pieces to break. But one thing the NFL can do is prevent blockers from actively putting the extremities of a defender at risk. Today they did just that. Again, this isn’t the golden ticket that will save all ACLs in the future, but it’s a darn good start.
Some coaches have already come out and said that chop blocks are an essential part of blocking and required on some types of plays. To that I say hogwash. Just because a chop block is a convenient, effective approach on some plays doesn’t mean it’s the only option. NFL playbooks evolve each and every day. If a team wants to run a stretch play to the outside, then it’s time they find a better way to block it than diving at a defender’s knee.
Yes, head injuries remain the true long term question surrounding the NFL, but there’s a reason plenty of players say they would rather be hit high than low. It’s because knee injuries end seasons and sometimes careers. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a player can suffer a serious knee injury and subsequently never be the same, costing him potentially tens of millions of dollars. Tens of millions of dollars that can help with his long term care in the future, regardless of the ailment.
So bravo to the NFL for not just focusing on preventing head injuries, but also in taking true steps to protect players from unnecessary injuries that can end careers. The game is, and always will be violent, but today it’s also a little safer for many.