This past weekend's football action frighteningly highlighted the growing epidemic of helmet-to-helmet hits and the nasty injuries that result. At some point on Sunday, more than a half-dozen NFL players, including Dunta Robinson, DeSean Jackson, Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi, lay unconscious and motionless on the field following helmet-to-helmet collisions. On Saturday, Eric LeGrand, a defensive tackle for Rutgers, was paralyzed from the neck down after making a tackle on kickoff coverage late in the game.
This type of hitting is nothing new. In fact, the bone-crushing, helmet-to-helmet hit has been celebrated in NFL highlight films and by our elevation to legendary status of lethal safeties like Jack Tatum, Ronnie Lott and Chuck Cecil. Simply put, this type of explosive, violent contact is what has made football overwhelmingly the most popular sport in the United States. However, today's athletes are bigger, stronger, faster and more powerful, which virtually guarantees much more damaging injuries when two massive men collide. In addition, our knowledge of what these hits can do to the human body—paralysis, concussions, brain damage—has evolved, causing the campaign to rid football of missile-style tackling to gain momentum and attract proponents on a daily basis.
The NFL just passed a rule that allows the league to immediately suspend helmet-to-helmet violators. The NFL hopes that taking away precious playing time will be more effective than the drop-in-the-bucket fines they've used in the past. Last night, former NFL Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley told us that he would take things even further. "This is an extremely violent game," he said. "This is the only place you can hit or assault someone and not get arrested. I was a mean, aggressive and violent player, but I truly believe that anyone who goes out there and purposely tries to injure someone with a helmet-to-helmet hit should be banned from the game completely."
The NFL and other governing bodies can concoct rules to outlaw this type of hit, but it comes down to the sport's participants. Every NFL locker room features wall posters reminding the team's players to tackle with their heads up and "see what they hit" in an effort to reduce injury to the neck, spine and head itself.
This subtle reminder doesn't seem to be working, so maybe it's time to put things in performance-based terms: leading with your head or shoulder is an ineffective way to tackle. Countless times, we've seen defenders go in for a so-called "kill shot" only to bounce off the ball carrier and end up on the ground. When you leave your feet and try to deliver a single blow, you violate the number one rule of tackling: hit, wrap and run through. For this reason, no rational football coach has ever taught his players to tackle with helmet-to-helmet contact.
To prevent being penalized, injured or simply run over by a ball carrier, use the tackling guidelines below:
-See what you hit. Focus your eyes directly on the ball carrier's chest.
-Lead with your chest, not your head or shoulder, to tackle in squared-up fashion.
-Do not leave your feet; keep them driving through the ball carrier.
-Keep your hips below your shoulders. Begin low and rise through the tackle.
Photos: espn.com, sportsmedicineconcepts.com
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