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Liguori: Helmets Off To The NFL

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

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Hats off, or dare we say, helmets off to the NFL for cracking down on helmet-to-helmet hits. It is a policy that needed to be made but a difficult one, considering that most players who grow up in the game are conditioned to play with brute physical force, to deliver explosive blows and severe hits. Many players may have a tough time distinguishing the difference between clean hits and dirty ones. These players are thinking one thing out there – deliver the most forceful blow to your opponent in any given situation to do your job and help your team win.

And many fans love to see these hits just like they love seeing dramatic crashes in NASCAR  and the fake moves in wrestling that look like they bring the most misery to the guys in the ring, or a boxer getting severely pummeled, where viewers are glued to their sets, watching slow motion footage of an opponent being the recipient of a severe-impact blow and watching blood and sweat and whatever else oozing from the boxer’s swollen head.

Sure, nobody wants to see athletes get hurt but some fans truly enjoy the thrill of these high impact collisions on the field, in the ring, on the ice and on the track. Remember the introduction to the weekly sports show Wide World of Sports on ABC years ago? ‘The agony of defeat’…in which viewers saw a ski jumper wipe out and tumble down the mountain? It catches your attention. It brings more viewers to the television.

I for one was never interested in seeing these kinds of punishing blows in any sport. How often have you heard someone joke that they went to a fight and a hockey game broke out. To me, the fighting takes away from the artistry of the game. But many hockey fans thrive on seeing these players pound each other.

Too many athletes – amateur and professional – are getting severely injured and some paralyzed and killed, by these acts of violence in sports. I am in favor of the NFL’s recent crackdowns on these illegal hits and unnecessary violence. I am glad the NFL is educating the players about the rules and that the league expects both the players and coaches to comply.  I also agree that coaches must take responsibility to enforce these rules and help educate their players on what is acceptable and what is not. The NFL and all leagues have got to protect their players.

The NFL came out with a video recently that shows the difference between legal hits and dirty ones that will no longer be tolerated.

Ray Anderson, the Executive VP of Football Operations for the NFL, says in this video: “Illegal hits to the head of an opponent will not be tolerated…illegal techniques must be removed from our game…players must play under control. If a player launching into an opponent misses his aiming point, he will nevertheless be held responsible for what he hits…initial contact in the neck or head area with a forearm, shoulder or helmet, is prohibited…and hits to the neck or head area of a defenseless player must stop, not just the helmet contact but shoulder or forearm contact as well…”

I’ve hosted a variety of radio shows on brain injuries in sports and the long-term effects on concussions. Just ask Harry Carson who admitted on one of my radio shows that had he known about post-concussion syndrome and the long-term affects he would suffer from the countless concussions he endured while practicing and playing football, he would never have pursued his Hall of Fame football career. Ron Duguay of the New York Rangers admitted to me on a show, that he suffers memory loss and headaches from all the years he never wore a helmet while playing hockey. And I’ll never forget how difficult it was interviewing Mike Utley for one of my Sports Innerview with Ann Liguori syndicated cable shows. Mike, an offensive guard for the Detroit Lions, was paralyzed below the chest during an NFL game in 1991 against the LA Rams. His courageous ‘Thumbs Up’ gesture as he was carried off the field came to symbolize his fighting spirit. Here was an athlete, just really starting the prime of his career, and his life as he knew it, was over. He started the Mike Utley Foundation and has since worked to raise money for spinal cord research.

There are countless stories of these kinds of horrible sports injuries, including the most recent this past Saturday when Rutgers’ defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed below the neck after making a tackle in a game against Army. Hopefully this young man will be able to walk again.

The NFL’s crackdown is a good start to help curb some of these potential injuries in the professional arena.  Let’s see how the players, coaches and officials respond.

Be sure to visit Ann’s web site at www.annliguori.com and order DVD copies of her interviews with some of the top names in sports.