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How will the NFL helmet crackdown affect the game?

The NFL is cracking down on intentional helmet hits that cause serious concussions and injuries.

October 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Three football players responsible for dangerous, flagrant hits this past weekend were slapped with big fines on Tuesday. Starting this week, the NFL says violent conduct will be cause for suspension. It is part of an ongoing effort to protect players from serious head injuries, so new rules have been issued on helmet to helmet hits.

NFL players can be fined or ejected from games for illegal hits. The league is now ratcheting up the punishment to include suspensions. It is a controversial move in an often brutal game where ABC7 sports anchor Mike Shumann says "players are either the hammer or the nail."

On Sunday, a frightening collision knocked both players out of the Eagles-Falcons game. Jarring hits from the Pittsburgh Steelers' James Harrison sidelined two Cleveland Browns players.

"The whole reason people love this game is because of how barbaric it is," says former Oakland Raiders player Jarrod Cooper.

Cooper knows how rough the game is since he was special teams captain for the Oakland Raiders and was known for his ferocious tackles. Concussions forced his retirement from the game two years ago, but he still feels the hits.

"I've been hospitalized three times in the last year and I've blacked out probably once a month for like the last six or seven months," says Cooper.

The NFL wants to prevent brutal hits which could cause serious brain injuries. Players have been fined and ejected. Now, the league wants to suspend players for the most flagrant hits, especially when they use their helmets. Cooper says a suspension goes too far. It runs counter to the culture of football.

"You want to hit him as hard as you can, then if he just happens to get hurt, then he gets hurt. That's just part of the game," says Cooper.

"I think you have to do something to police this because it is getting out of control," says Shumann.

Shumann won a Super Bowl ring with the San Francisco 49ers before concussions knocked him into retirement in 1985. Shumann says fines don't work when players make so much money, but suspensions may.

"Now, if you miss a game or two games, you could lose your job. Guy who replaces you, he starts to play well... 'maybe we don't need you anymore. You're making a lot of money,'" says Shumann.

Dr. Geoffrey Manley, head of Neurotrauma at UCSF, applauds the NFL for trying to minimize the risks of concussions, but he warns against rushing to judgment when so little is known about the permanent effects of concussions.

"Until we really know more, we're not going to understand the truth about what is the level of impact that causes a profound and sustained brain injury," says Manley.

A spokesman for the NFL says it will give players fair warning before the suspensions begin. The NFL is expected to send out a memo Wednesday to teams, outlining the new disciplinary changes.


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