As evidence of life-changing head injuries after NFL careers mounts, the National Football League is considering suspending players for illegal hits as a measure to prevent some of the more debilitating brain injuries to vulnerable players. The Sporting News quoted the league’s executive vice president of football operations, Ray Anderson as saying “We can’t and won’t tolerate what we saw Sunday,” Ray Anderson, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, referring to an October weekend in which numerous players were sidelined after dangerous hits in several different games.

“We’ve got to get the message to players that these devastating hits and headshots will be met with a very necessary higher standard of accountability. We have to dispel the notion that you get one free pass in these egregious or flagrant shots.”

Fines Not Enough

The history of violent hits demonstrates that fines are an inadequate response to the issue. The players make far too much money to be impressed with a few thousand-dollar fines. The danger is that this becomes the “cost of doing business” for the player and the team.

Retired safety Rodney Harrison was fined more than $200,000 during his career and was suspended for one game in 2002 for a helmet-to-helmet hit. The Associated Press reports he said “You didn’t get my attention when you fined me 5 grand, 10 grand, 15 grand. You got my attention when I got suspended…. But you have to suspend these guys. These guys are making millions of dollars.”

The issue is important not just because of the damage that helmet-to-helmet hits can do to the players, often resulting in concussions and potentially life-threatening paralysis or death. The broader issue is the example this sets for the hundreds of thousands of young players who watch NFL games every weekend and model their behavior on that of NFL players.

While NFL players, with millions of dollars at stake every weekend, may have taken on some level of having assumed the risk of playing in a league where the rewards can be staggering. USA Today reports 2009 average player salary was $1.9 million, with the top players earning more than $16 million per year.

Young players in elementary to high school have made no such deals. They play, one hopes, for the love of the game. They should not be at risk of spending a lift time in a motorized wheelchair to get a first down.

Brain Injury Research Institute at WVU

Dr. Julian Bailes is a key advisor to NFL on traumatic brain injuries and mild trauma brain injuries and is chairman of the neurosurgery department at West Virginia University

“It’s disappointing to me with all the research and the education and the efforts at prevention that these sort of hits are still happening,” he said after the recent incidents in NFL games.

The documented concussion rate has grown through the past decade to 8.9 percent, according to this year’s National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study. Head/face concussions represent 20 percent, or 63,855, of the injuries suffered in football games. As the NFL incidents have highlighted, being tackled is the riskiest activity on the field, which also accounts for almost 30 percent of the injuries in high school football games.

This year, the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (SSAC) mandated that anyone suffering a head injury must receive medical attention before returning to play. The State Journal quotes one trainer as saying, “We’re very conservative with head injuries. We will never put a player back in there before they’re fully recovered and ready to play.”

If you have a child who was injured while playing any sport at school, an experienced attorney can review the facts of your situation and help determine if any legal action is necessary to protect your and your child’s rights.