The Nutcracker Suite Redux

The NFL bans the Nutcracker and Oklahoma drills- So what?

image credit- Geoff Scott on UNSPLASH

image credit- Geoff Scott on UNSPLASH

Awash in waves of increasingly severe injuries despite a decade of lawsuits, committee meetings, helmet modifications and kickoff changes, the NFL this week moved to ban a trio of head-butting drills in a concession to try to reduce the head injury risk to their players (1). Well played, Mr. Goodell. However, the biggest barrier to safer play in the National Football League remains what it has always been. The players.

Until all the quarterback blindsiding, secondary headhunting, and vicious scalping during kickoffs and punts is eliminated the injuries will just keep coming. Hefty fines are apparently not enough to encourage self restraint in a league of millionaires. Bigger fines sometimes just mean bigger street cred. When it comes to concussions, some players seem more concerned about their knees than their heads. After all, they settled their concussion lawsuit with the NFL in 2013. In an interview with ESPN’s Kevin Seifert last summer, Washington Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger said (2):

“A lot of guys would rather take their hit up top because they can live to see another day rather than have a knee injury.” 

Obviously, common sense is at a premium in the professional ranks. The bottom line is that there is a sense of fatalism and inevitability among players that they will all eventually succumb to the sport they love. Can you really blame them? A 2017 Boston University study of former NFL players showed evidence of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in 110 of 111 brain autopsies. Yikes. Even worse, the average lifespan of a former NFL player is only 59 (3). In fact, a study published in JAMA in 2018 found that career NFL players had a 38% increased chance of dying young compared to those that played only a handful of NFL games (4). It’s no wonder that many players think that if the NFL were truly concerned about their well being, they would guarantee their contracts or at least provide some type of disability or workmen’s compensation safety net for their families. I guess there is always the nuclear option. As NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, Brett Favre told CNN’s Christine Amanpour (5):

"Concussions will continue to be a serious issue. There's only so much that helmets can do. So we'll look at it from a treatment standpoint. And the only other option is not to play.”

Yeah, right. With the median salary for an NFL running back clocking in at over $1,000,000 and the average NFL team worth 2.75 billion dollars (6), there will no shortage of meat for the grinder anytime soon. I should probably just quit complaining and avoid biting the hand that feeds me. After all, I am an orthopedic surgeon.

#NFL #football #concussions #CTE