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AN UNFOLDING TRAGEDY
John Underwood
August 14, 1978
As football injuries mount, lawsuits increase and insurance rates soar. The game is headed toward a crisis, one that is epitomized by the helmet, which is both a barbarous weapon and inadequate protection
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August 14, 1978

An Unfolding Tragedy

As football injuries mount, lawsuits increase and insurance rates soar. The game is headed toward a crisis, one that is epitomized by the helmet, which is both a barbarous weapon and inadequate protection

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?Make all deliberate initial-contact helmet hits, by any part of the helmet, illegal. "Deliberate" would allow for strays and be a judgment call officials could make, says Gene Calhoun.

?Pad the outside of helmets and shoulder pads.

?Remove face masks or, at least, produce a study verifying their safety.

?Make mouthpieces mandatory at all levels of the game.

?Make all deliberate hits above the shoulders illegal.

?Make any flagrant foul involving the head punishable by immediate ejection of the offending player.

?Spot-check practices to see that coaches are not teaching or condoning dangerous techniques.

Would such changes mar football's attractiveness or make it more difficult to coach? No more than rules against clipping, flying tackles, hurdling and turtle-back formations did. Most rules concerning players' safety are first pushed by physicians, not coaches.

Coaches will always resist change, says Dr. Cooper, and doctors do not vote on rules changes. As a consultant to the NCAA Rules Committee, he has found that when doctors come around, coaches get the whim-whams. "As long as I talked strictly about injuries, they didn't mind," Dr. Cooper says, "but when I started talking about preventing injuries, they called it 'meddling.' In essence, they said, 'Why the hell don't you stick to practicing medicine and quit trying to act like a damn coach?'

"Some coaches resisted the mouthpiece legislation to the bitter end. They said their quarterbacks couldn't call signals through them. After three or four years of coming back from the meetings frustrated, I got my dentist to custom-fit a mouthpiece. The next year I gave a 30-minute report with the mouthpiece in. Nobody noticed. I said, 'Did everybody understand me?' and I pulled out the mouthpiece. They turned around and voted it in. Our dental bills have dropped to practically nothing."

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