Is Safety Really A Player Concern?

We have heard all about the players wanting the league to put better measures in place to help protect the players from injury.  It’s something that the players themselves, through their legal teams, have been saying is a very important cog in the next CBA or any negotiations that would lead to a new labor deal.  At the forefront of those arguments is the 18 games schedule that the league wants to implement.  The players say absolutely not.

The players cite the tolls that are put on their bodies year in and year out under the current system of 16 games and the average length of an NFL career.  Somewhere between three and four years.  Despite the addition of only two more games and a two game shorter pre-season, the players know that at the end of the year, they are tired, worn out, sore, and frankly just waiting for it all to get over with so they can recover.  It’s this health issue that they say is at the forefront of their desire not to increase to 18 games and one of the main reasons that the players refused to accept or further negotiate a new CBA so long as the possibility of an 18 game schedule remained a talking point.

But do the players really care about their safety? Do they really care about adding two more games of wear and tear on their bodies or is money really the deciding factor in to what they players will or will not accept?

Last week Virginia Tech conducted testing of the pro’s and con’s of today’s football helmets.  You can read Patrik Nohe‘s very good article about the findings, here. Patrik points out that while some argue the validity of the VT findings, under those findings some 40 percent of the NFL players wore helmets that were low rated.  The question is why?

Considering there is a huge push for player safety by the league, especially as it relates to concussions, and the talk of safety priority by the NFL trade association, it would seem that both sides don’t have their facts right.  Are the owners doing enough?  Not according to the players, but a deeper look at the issue reveals that the players may be playing both sides of the fence.

In an exchange of “Tweets” with Patrik, two Miami Dolphins players were asked what goes into their thinking when they choose what helmet they will wear?  Both players answered, “whichever looks better“.   Not safety.  And it should be noted that this is not an isolated issue as many players across the league refuse to change their helmets because the safer ones don’t look as “cool” as one player said in an interview regarding helmet safety two years ago.  In fact, a few players who wore newer and safer Riddell helmets switched back because of the “goofy” looks of the new helmets.

It doesn’t stop there though.  Players, especially WR’s will forgo the use of thigh pads.  Some believe it simply makes the faster while others have said that the bulky pads don’t look good on their person.  The league for their part does not enforce the use of thigh pads or hip pads.  Many LB’s refuse to wear neck-rolls because of the way they look and the buld and feel.  Zach Thomas never played a game without one.

When it comes to player safety it’s a double edged sword.  The league installs rules and precautionary measures to help protect the players, they install softer turf on the stadium fields, and go to some extreme lengths to make sure that playing surfaces are not conducive to creating more knee injuries.  This past off-season at the owners meetings they changed rules on kick-offs in an effort to reduce injury to players and no longer can teams use “wedge” formations on those kick-offs.  Most of their rules are met with disdain from the players, including the launching rules and hits to the head of defensive players.

Yet it is a point of contention in the labor mess instigated by the players.  If the league enforces rules of uniform codes to include all padding and the use of higher rated helmets, would the players agree with those changes or fight them?  The players are seeking to limit the off-season workouts that they have been accustomed to for the last decade or so and the league acquiesced and reduced the number of off-season required workouts and the start date of those workouts.  They are also willing to limit the number of practices in training camp.  Not really sure if I get this considering that everyone agrees the better conditioned a player is the less likely he is to get injured.

What exactly is in the best interest of the players and if they are in fact willing to compromise their own safety for the sake of “looking good” does that lesson their right to deny the league two extra games due to health concerns?  Does it really give them a right to ask the league to do more for the safety of it’s players?

I really don’t have an answer for that, but I do think that it is something that should be brought into the casual conversation when players suddenly start talking about their own safety.

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Tags: 18 Game NFL Schedule NFL Labor Dispute NFL Players Trade Association NFL Safety NFLPA Player Safety Riddell Helmet Virgina Tech Zach Thomas

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