The Knees or the Head: The NFL’s Injury Dichotomy

Brandon Meriweather is going to start trying to end players’ careers by going after their knees.

Why? Because there is no punishment for doing so. Meriweather has seen countless fines and now a suspension for his actions on the football field, actions which typically include targeting the heads of offensive players. So, as partially a way to avoid fine and partially a way to stick it to the NFL, Meriweather will circumvent the system and injure players a different way.

Now, it should be fair to say that Meriweather does not actually intend on hurting his opponents, but his history as a headhunter speaks to the contrary. He seems to be under the impression that he can only hit someone in the knees or in the head, even though there is a large target, usually around three to four feet in length, that lies between those two points that more often than not is a very safe place to tackle someone. So why is it so difficult for someone to just hit such a large window? Well, the fact is that the speed of the game creates a strong range of error. A player may be trying to tackle at the midsection but a sudden slip of the ball carrier and now he is being hit in the head. The head and the knees may not be the biggest part of the body but they are by far the most exposed. It is very difficult for a player to protect either when he is going full speed.

Most players would be very unhappy if Meriweather takes his plan into action since 90 percent of NFL players think short term when it comes to their careers. Before the season started, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez was quoted as saying “I’d rather have a guy hit me in the head than knife at my knee.” A knee injury is sometimes career threatening and always leads to extended recovery time on the bench.

A concussion, on the other hand, usually only leads to missing one game or two. Of course, multiple head injuries leads to far greater problems down the road, as we saw as recently as last year when former star linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide, a death that was believed to have been caused by Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease that is believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head over a long period of time. However, most players do not consider the lasting impact of multiple concussions, and will even lie about concussions in order to get back on the field.

But they will always be protective of their knees.

Two weeks ago, Packers tight end suffered a bruised spinal cord, a potentially career-threatening injury, after being hit in the head by a Cleveland Browns defender. In a piece that he wrote for Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback later on, Finley said that he had ducked a little in order to protect his knees. The result was that the defensive player, who had been going for the chest, was now in line to hit Finley square in the head. After the hit, Finley said he could not move his arms or legs and was having difficulty breathing.

The interesting thing about the knees vs. head debate is how the league and the players differ on the subject. As stated before, players protect their knees above all else, since their knees essentially pay the bills. The NFL, however, is far more concerned with the health of players with regards to hits to the head. Numerous rule changes over the last few years have created strong penalties for contact with the helmets of players, yet hits that can jeopardize a player’s legs like low blocks and tackles are still perfectly legal. The argument made by the players is that the NFL is not actually all that concerned with player safety, but since they just made a settlement of $765 million with former players on a concussion lawsuit, and since they have now seen the likes of Seau and Dave Duerson commit suicide due to CTE, the NFL is merely covering their backside for the future.

Suffice it to say, defensive players are not happy with the state of player safety because they are being fined and suspended and offensive players are not happy because there is very little protection of their knees in the NFL rulebook. And neither side thinks the NFL cares about their safety at all.

Obviously, there is still the need for the NFL to protect its players from themselves. When Tony Gonzalez says “go for my head,” he is not considering the life-altering implications of the statement. He merely thinks about the here and now, even someone like him, who is planning on retiring at year’s end. Brandon Meriweather may be viewed by some as a thug, but the fact that he acknowledges that his current style of play is a problem is a step in the right direction.

 

Photo Credit: (http://sports.cbsimg.net/images/blogs/jermichael-finley-injury-10212013.jpg)

About Sam Smith

Sam Smith is an aspiring sports writer from suburban Chicago. Besides sports, he has interests in film, television and music. Upon graduation, he hopes to become a beat reporter for an NBA or NHL franchise before embarking on a career in sports talk radio and eventually television analysis. In the meantime, you can follow him @samuelc_smith and read his blog at samuelchristophersmith.wordpress.com.