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11/23: Hard Hits on the Gridiron

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11/23: Hard Hits on the Gridiron

What should be done to reduce the number of head injuries in, both, the NFL and college football?  The Marist Poll’s John Sparks took up the topic with Marist Poll Analyst and CBS Sports Play-By-Play Broadcaster Verne Lundquist.

Verne Lundquist

Verne Lundquist

Listen to the interview or read the transcript below.

John Sparks
Verne, there’s been more talk about football and head injuries this season than any other that I can recall in quite some time.  What’s the reason?

Listen to Part 1 of the Interview:

Verne Lundquist
Well, I think it’s the growing awareness that there’s been trauma because of head injuries, not only in the National Football League, but also in college and on down to high school.  It just seems to me that the more science explores the impact of football and head injuries, the more they learn and the greater the safety precautions need to become, and so, I think that there’s just a heightened awareness about all of it.

John Sparks
You know even Congress has gotten in on the act.  There’ve been hearings.  You think there’s an answer on how we can reduce or eliminate concussions suffered on the gridiron?

Verne Lundquist
I don’t know, John, unless it’s in the increased safety level and increasing technology in the development of the helmet.  It is and always will be a contact sport as long as football is played with the current rules.  I think you can change some of the rules too to — but you can’t change the nature of the game. I think it’s all going to be dependent upon technology and an increase in the safety of the helmet.

John Sparks
You know hard shell helmets, as we know them, were developed in the late ’40s to prevent fractured skulls, and some say that the helmets actually encourage players to hit harder and with more force because they feel they’re so protected.  Do you think that’s true?

Verne Lundquist
Well, I think for years the technique was taught to lead with the helmet. I think it was a coaching technique, and kids, probably not in junior high but in high school and certainly in college, were taught that technique and then perfected the — not the art of it, but the technique of it as they advanced into the higher levels of the sport. And, this goes back to the increasing awareness of the damage of helmet, not only helmet-to-helmet hits but helmet-to-body part hits.  I just… I think that the technique…  Well, not the technique, the coaching aspects of it need to change, and I think they are.  I… You know the NFL is cracking down now on helmet-to-helmet hits.  The college game is.  We had an example in a recent big time game, Georgia and Auburn, where one of the Auburn defensive players was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. He used his helmet to spear the opposing quarterback in the small of the back long after the ball had been released and was gone. He was flagged for unsportsmanlike, but that was a potentially serious injury, a potential serious injury, and there’s a school of thought that he should’ve been suspended for a game, and the more suspension…  I did see somewhere someone was suspended just this past weekend in college, and I think we need to have more of that.

John Sparks
So, in the NFL, for instance, a player who commits an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit, think they ought to be fined or suspended then?

Listen to Part 2:

Verne Lundquist
Well, I think suspension works better than fines because it’s so — it’s such an incidental part of their financial compensation package.  For these multimillionaire athletes, I think suspension without pay is much, much more effective than strictly a fine.  It’s a pittance for most of them.  It sounds great to the average American, you know $25,000.  That’s a salary — a yearly salary for some folks, and at least a half yearly salary for most people.  But, for a guy who’s making $3 million a year, it’s the cost of doing business.  So, I’d rather see them suspended without pay for a game or two.

John Sparks
There’s been a suggestion by some folks that we just do away with helmets; we slow down the game; we change it. That would ease parents fears who worry about injuries to their kid.  Do you think we’d ever seen anything like that happen?

Verne Lundquist
Well, we have a sport; it’s called rugby, and it’s as violent as football is except it’s played with no pads and no helmets, so I don’t see it happening.  I think the sport is so popular that they’re not going to do away with helmets in the game.  At the base of the attraction of football for most of us is the anticipation.  It’s not anything we should be proud of, but I think there’s an attraction to… not the violence of the game, but the aggressive nature of the sport.  I think that is part of what makes it attractive to fans and players, so, you’re not going to completely get away with that — get away from it rather.

John Sparks
I didn’t realize it, but I’m not surprised, there is an organization called the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.  Now, that’s a mouthful.  But, one of its board members who is a…

Listen to Part 3:

Verne Lundquist
I didn’t know that either.

John Sparks
One of its board members, he’s a neurosurgeon up in Massachusetts, and he says you can prevent concussions, but to do that, the helmets would have to be much larger and the padding much larger.  And, he add that other than making players look like aliens from another planet, the hit of your helmets would be more likely to cause neck injuries.  So, here we again.  Do you see that we might get to this stage where we drastically reformat/redesign the current paraphernalia that we wear?

Verne Lundquist
No, I don’t think so.  Remember there was a kid — a kid, a young man from Buffalo Bills, I want to say his name was Mark Kelso, and he had his helmet designed with the padding on the outside of it, and so his helmet was much larger than most.  And, God bless him, he did look a little like an alien, and he paid a price every week in the taunting that he received from the opposition, and I just think the innate  narcissism of most athletes is that they’re not going to go for anything that makes them look less attractive, and that certainly would.

John Sparks
I guess the bottom line is that really football wouldn’t be football if you changed the game, and everything I sense is that it’s the most popular game in the country.  I know you’re preparing for the current CBS Game of the Week. I presume that ratings are as high as ever.

Verne Lundquist
Well controversy helps, doesn’t it, John?  And, we’re in the midst of this Cam Newton scandal or non-scandal, depending on your perspective, and so last week we had Georgia/Auburn game featuring Cam Newton: Will he play?  Won’t he play?  And, we had our highest rating of the year.  So, I mean we all know that.  P.T. Barnum taught us all that 125 years ago that if you can get them into the tent, keep them entertained, and it’s kind of sad.  It’s not a grateful — gracious commentary on the fan base, but it’s true, and we know it.  And, it goes back to the point I made: I think the element of violence is part of the attraction of the sport of football. I really… I’m not proud to say that, but I think it’s true.

John Sparks
Hey, I appreciate your time, Verne. It’s always a pleasure talking with you.  Good luck with the broadcast this weekend.

Verne Lundquist
Thank you, John. I’ll talk to you down the road.

Related Story:
Poll: Helmet-to-Helmet Hits — Football Fans Define the Penalty

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