The NFL is getting serious about concussions, which is a good thing, but it’s not doing anything serious about steroids, which are one of the prime causes of the concussions.
The new rule assessing automatic 15-yard personal fouls for helmet-to-helmet hits has been very controversial because it can affect games.
We saw an example of that in the Raiders’ game last Sunday in Jacksonville. The Jags’ Will Middleton sacked Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell, who fumbled. Terrance Knighton picked up the fumble and ran it in for an apparent Jacksonville touchdown, which would have put the Jags up 38-24 and effectively ended the suspense.
But Middleton’s helmet had hit Campbell’s, so it was an automatic penalty. Campbell was out of the game briefly and replacement Kyle Boller threw an interception, but the Raiders were able to eventually tie the game.
The Jags eventually won that game, but can you imagine the uproar if they had lost it because of that call?
And yet, the rule is a good one. Though there was some debate by the TV broadcast crew about whether Campbell was truly in a defenseless position, as the rule stipulates. I’d say a quarterback who’s trying to pass is always defenseless.
Too many quarterbacks are still suffering concussions. On that same Sunday, Aaron Rodgers suffered his second of the year.
If there seems to be more concussions than there once were, it’s because in earlier times, nobody took concussions seriously. Players, coaches, even sportswriters talked about a player “getting his bell rung.”
Now, there is much more knowledge of the damage that can be done with these hits to the head, especially with quarterbacks. Agent Leigh Steinberg helped raise everybody’s consciousness when one of his clients, Steve Young, had his career ended because of one too many hits to the head.
What’s strange to me is the fact that nobody in football wants to face up to the fundamental problem: Steroids have changed the whole face of the game.
All the talk about steroids seems to center on baseball, which is ridiculous because baseball is a skill sport. Steroids can help an athlete work harder and longer, building up muscle and strength and even durability, but they cannot improve his basic skills.
Case in point: Barry Bonds was a superb athlete who allegedly developed more power with PEDs. Marvin Benard was a mediocre player before taking drugs and remained mediocre after taking them.
But football is divided into two types of players, those who depend primarily on skill and those who depend on strength and speed, which PEDs definitely boost.
Now you have linebackers, for instance, who once weighed 215 pounds, coming in at 265 — and running faster than ever. It’s a simple law of physics: If two passenger cars hit head on at 40 mph the damage is much less than two SUVs hitting head on at 60 mph.
The NFL has a testing program for steroids, but most players know how to evade it. Until the league seriously updates its testing programs, players are going to keep getting bigger and faster and the number of concussions will escalate. Rules against helmet-to-helmet hits aren’t enough.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.