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Survey of players finds more concern for knee injuries than head injuries

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We’ve heard many defensive players talk about the increased risk of knee and leg injuries that they believe will be a result of the league’s crackdown on hits to the head and a survey of current players done by USA Today finds that current players are more concerned about those injuries than they are about head injuries.

The survey of 290 players who were on rosters in December found that 46 percent were most concerned about a knee or leg injury compared to 24 percent who were most worried by the prospect of head or neck injuries. The knee injury suffered by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on a low hit by Browns safety T.J. Ward was cited by several players as an illustration of their concern, including Ward’s teammate Shaun Lauvao.

“You saw what happened to Gronkowski,” Lauvao said. “That’s because of a rule change. The way it was before, he would have just got hit in the head. He would have been there for the next play. It’s a Catch-22. I know they’re trying to make it safer, but some rules changes just take away.”

NFL senior V.P. of health and safety policy Jeff Miller said that the league took the players’ concerns seriously, but that the league wanted to have more hard data before making any decisions about new or different approaches.

“When we look at the number of injuries and the types of injuries and the breakdown as to when and where and how those injuries occur, that’s going to inform the decision-making in terms of the health and safety measures that we take,” Miller said. “So if it turns out that the concern that is expressed in your survey is well-founded as we look at the number at the end of the year, then that’s something we’re going to have to address.”

It’s a delicate balancing act to pull off in a game that’s going to produce injuries as long as it’s played by excessively large men moving excessively quickly into one another and it figures to be one that the league addresses often in the years to come.

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32 Responses to “Survey of players finds more concern for knee injuries than head injuries”
  1. elwaysagenius says: Jan 27, 2014 10:11 AM

    It isn’t a safe game, the only way to make this game safe is to completely take out hitting, and nobody wants that.

  2. marvsleezy says: Jan 27, 2014 10:14 AM

    Wait Im confused. So if it wasnt for the rule change about hitting in the head, the safety would have tackled Gronk up high?? Really?

    Does anyone tackle Gronk up high and live to tell about it?

    Safeties always tackle huge guys like Gronk low, well before the head hitting rules.

    Most safeties would have to jump up to get to Gronks head because he is so much taller than them.

    A lot of these guys like to act like tough guys, but their hardest hits are on guys that dont see it coming and cant defend themselves.

    On the hit in question, if he hit Gronk up high, the safety is the one who would’ve been hurt.

    I just wanted to set the record straight on that one.

  3. anonymous135 says: Jan 27, 2014 10:20 AM

    Strike zone above the knees and below the shoulders…

    Seems like an acceptable target zone as it relates to the game.

    Works for baseball..

    Crazy 3M ingenuity.. it just might work for NFL player safety and common sense too!

  4. floratiotime says: Jan 27, 2014 10:22 AM

    Most NFL players have little use for their heads anyway.

  5. heisthejuan says: Jan 27, 2014 10:29 AM

    If Ward had tried to hit Gronk anywhere higher than he did, he would have been the one to leave the game on a cart.

  6. metitometin says: Jan 27, 2014 10:32 AM

    TJ Ward could have easily tackled Gronk in another part of the body to take him down but instead he chose the action that put Gronk’s career in jeopardy. Disgraceful. Ward should be out of the NFL for as long as Gronk is for his cheap shot.

  7. purpleguy says: Jan 27, 2014 10:32 AM

    This is precisely why the concussion plaintiff’s attorneys were wise to settle.

  8. boonevol says: Jan 27, 2014 10:40 AM

    That’s because plenty of them have experience or witnessed rehab from knee surgery. Probably little or none have witnessed rehab from brain surgery or TBI.

  9. sgruth33 says: Jan 27, 2014 10:47 AM

    “Strike zone above the knees and below the shoulders…”

    No knocking you, but anyone who has ever played this game at a high level competitively knows the above is unrealistic, because of how fast the game is played. A split second decision could be the difference in knocking the ball loose or the offensive player scoring a touchdown. If a player hesitates for one second, he’ll be uneffective and out of the league like his name is Todd Marinovich

  10. mornelithe says: Jan 27, 2014 10:56 AM

    On an average human male, the skull is 10 inches, the average knee is ~1.2 inches. On a person like Rob Gronkowski, that leaves at LEAST 5′ of tackle space that isn’t the head, or the knee itself.

    Unless you’re one of the only humanoids on the planet comprised entirely of head and knee, there is PLENTY of room outside those two areas to ‘hit’.

    Additionally, there used to be this old-school way of dragging down a receiver, we like to call ‘tackling’. I know, it’s much less entertaining to watch than someone get knocked out of their job for a year, but, it also prevents them from just bouncing off your hit and continuing on to score.

    Gronk’s ankle injury from the AFC game a year ago, was the result of someone (Pollard) actually attempting to tackle Gronkowski, TJ Ward made no attempt to wrap him up at all, and instead was simply trying to hit him as hard as he could. Which is why he focused on the knee. Hit him anywhere else and Ward just bounces off. The ankle injury I can pass off as terrible luck. The knee injury was avoidable if Ward were more interested in proper tackling.

    And yeah, it’s hard to drag down a beast like Gronk, it’s SUPPOSED to be. He’s one of the most physically gifted specimens at the TE position there has ever been. If it’s ok to go after Gronk’s knees, it’s ok to go after any players knees, who happens to be faster, stronger or taller than your defense. Double team him, wrap his legs up, and ensure you have help bringing him down.

  11. tremoluxman says: Jan 27, 2014 11:13 AM

    The ‘either-or’ argument about hitting in the head or taking out knees is bogus. Are there really only two legitimate choices when making a tackle? Are the only two choices giving a guy a concussion or blowing up his knees?
    I don’t think so. There is a whole area between mid-thigh and upper chest that is legally available to make a tackle. But no; defenders want to ‘blow up’ a guy and make the weekly highlights by taking a guy’s head off. Or they’re too weak in basic technique to tackle a guy by putting a shoulder in his stomach and wrapping him up. It just doesn’t look as glamorous.
    All they’ve learned since grade school is ‘put a hat on the guy’. This basically means stick a helmet where it can either break his own neck or give the other guy a concussion.

  12. mistascatt says: Jan 27, 2014 11:19 AM

    NFL just has their back against the wall with this injury thing. There are books out about how badly the head injuries mess with retired players, so obviously the NFL is going to do something. But it is football – there will be concussions and torn ACLs no matter what the league does to try an stop it. I think we have to respect their intent of making the league safer, but making the personal fouls reviewable is a MUST. Too many horrible, game changing personal fouls. Good intentions but poorly executes by the NFL.

  13. iamedreed says: Jan 27, 2014 11:33 AM

    Strike zone above the knees and below the shoulders…

    Seems like an acceptable target zone as it relates to the game.

    Works for baseball..

    Crazy 3M ingenuity.. it just might work for NFL player safety and common sense too!
    ———————————————-

    yeah because comparing the baseball strike zone where the batter is standing completely still is the same thing as trying to tackle 260lb genetic freaks running at full speed

  14. iamedreed says: Jan 27, 2014 11:35 AM

    The ‘either-or’ argument about hitting in the head or taking out knees is bogus. Are there really only two legitimate choices when making a tackle? Are the only two choices giving a guy a concussion or blowing up his knees?
    I don’t think so. There is a whole area between mid-thigh and upper chest that is legally available to make a tackle. But no; defenders want to ‘blow up’ a guy and make the weekly highlights by taking a guy’s head off. Or they’re too weak in basic technique to tackle a guy by putting a shoulder in his stomach and wrapping him up. It just doesn’t look as glamorous.
    All they’ve learned since grade school is ‘put a hat on the guy’. This basically means stick a helmet where it can either break his own neck or give the other guy a concussion.
    ———————————————

    the problem is offensive players are ducking their heads into that legal strike zone between the shoulders and knees and making helmet to helmet contact and the defenders are the ones still being penalized

    this has resulted in defensive players lowering the strike zone even further so that its low enough that the offensive player cant duck and brace for the hit and cause a penalty

  15. gratefulneal says: Jan 27, 2014 11:37 AM

    so the football players association SUED the NFL for “concussion/head injuries” b/c…low and behold….HEAD INJURIES OCCUR IN FOOTBALL…who would have thought ???

    my question is…are they (football players association) NOW going to sue the NFL for not properly telling them that they actually could sustain knee injuries ???

    c’mon people – it’s a contact sport…I don’t want anyone to get hurt…but…if you PLAY the game…somethings happen !

  16. jpherling says: Jan 27, 2014 11:45 AM

    What the players are taking into consideration, and the league isn’t, is how long the different types of injuries put the players out of action. A knee or leg injury can end a season or a career, while a concussion might only keep a player out for part of a game.

  17. johninthewest says: Jan 27, 2014 11:47 AM

    Total Gym 2000, knee exercises!

  18. granadafan says: Jan 27, 2014 11:48 AM

    Players live in the “now” moment. They don’t particularly care about the future. That’s why so many players go broke within a few years. They don’t think about the consequences or what their actions do to their bodies down the line. All they know is that there is tremendous pressure to get back on the field and earn those paychecks.

  19. rajbais says: Jan 27, 2014 11:50 AM

    This is no shock. The quantities of ACL tears made it obvious and what’s a player’s injury preference?

    The preference is the head because if they have no knees they can’t play anymore.

  20. cromags says: Jan 27, 2014 12:00 PM

    TJ Ward is 5’10”
    Gronk is 6’6″

    He’d need a step ladder to hit him in the head. Going high on him is not on the table, don’t use it as an excuse for targeting his knee. There’s an entire TJ Ward worth of height between Gronk’s knees and head he could’ve hit.

  21. Dexter Morgan says: Jan 27, 2014 12:07 PM

    sgruth33 says:
    Jan 27, 2014 10:47 AM
    “Strike zone above the knees and below the shoulders…”

    No knocking you, but anyone who has ever played this game at a high level competitively knows the above is unrealistic, because of how fast the game is played. A split second decision could be the difference in knocking the ball loose or the offensive player scoring a touchdown. If a player hesitates for one second, he’ll be uneffective and out of the league like his name is Todd Marinovich

    _________________________
    I dont disagree with you, but only to a point. Every situation is obviously different and the speed of the game has to be considered. But in the Gronk play, he was airborn, coming down with the ball. He wasnt going to juke anybody on his way down to the turf. He wasnt going to lower his head to brace for impact. Ward had a huge area to target from thigh pads to chest and he missed by a wide margin. Like I said, all cases are different. If a player in the open field attempts to hit a player in the chest and the player ducks (causing helmet to helmet) that cant be the fault of the defense. I think the new rules need to be tweaked to have the officials try to identify intent. If a player is standing and gets drilled in the head, obviously the head was the target. If a player ducks down and gets hit in the head, obviously the mid section was the target. At no point did Ward target anything but Gronks extreme lower body.

  22. fearthehoody says: Jan 27, 2014 12:12 PM

    Funny how those who never played the game, or played past pop warner, want to talk about strike zones and Ward’s hit being “OK.” The problems are Fear and Fundamentals ! When was the last time you seen a CB wrap? Its all throwing shoulders and cutting knees. You can easily get low in the open field and wrap and make contact at the waist level. Like they teach you even at the youngest levels, the lower man wins, see what you are hitting, and WRAP UP!

  23. peymax1693 says: Jan 27, 2014 12:14 PM

    That’s because most players have a hard time convincing themselves that multiple concussions could damage or even end their careers while they know a torn ACL easily could.

  24. russellwilsonismymvp says: Jan 27, 2014 12:16 PM

    Let’s get the fairytale of some type of “hit zone” out of the discussion.

    When a 250 lb player is running at full speed and LOWERS HIS HEAD AND SHOULDERS there’s nothing but shouldepads, legs, and a helmet to hit. If a safety tries to go shoulder to shoulder, that is going to injure the defensive player more often than not.

    We know what happens now if you hit to the helmet. So what does that leave? Even if a player makes a clean hit to the thigh, the knee and ankle can be hurt still. Willis McGahee learned the last the hard way in college…hard hit to the thigh bent his entire leg in the wrong direction.

    And contrary to what a lot of you are posting on here, there is NO WAY a defensive player moving at full speed (vs an offensive player moving at full speed and making evasive moves) can EVER pick and choose where he specifically hits the guy. They shoot low now to avoid the fines and penalties, but like the column mentions, the knee is MUCH more valuable to a player than worring about a concussion that you can be cleared from in a week’s time.

  25. hawkman4life says: Jan 27, 2014 12:31 PM

    Funny how ‘old school’ tackling is being brought up. You do realize how much more dangerous the game used to be don’t you? Old school tackling used to involve a clothes line tackle. Some comments aren’t thought up to well. Another briloiant comment is the ‘strike zone’ tackle and say baseball does it…well in case you missed every game…it isn’t baseball. Baseball is a non-contact sport aside from a collision at home plate. To make the sport actually injury free you’d have to stop the game altogether. Even flag football will result in injuries. Be real!

  26. basedrum777 says: Jan 27, 2014 12:37 PM

    The players are worried about their current livelihoods by worrying about their knees/legs. The NFL is (supposedly) worried about their after football future by worrying about head hits. Makes sense to me.

  27. Deb says: Jan 27, 2014 12:54 PM

    They have a right to be concerned. A knee injury is more likely to end their careers–and the NFL can’t assure them tackling changes will result in fewer head injuries.

    Three years ago, players were beginning to file lawsuits as information surfaced showing the league had suppressed data on the dangers of traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Congress was threatening to intervene. Goodell–ever the corporate animal–needed a way to pacifiy Congress and the public to make it appear as though the NFL was addressing the issue. So he began fining players who appeared to be overly aggressive and leading with the helmet (even where replay showed they were leading with the shoulder).

    According to the NFL’s Injury Surveillance System, the first year he implemented this fining scheme, the number of concussions increased 29 percent and remained at that level the second year.

    You don’t just start fining people without researching to see whether that will accomplish the goal. The NFL never tried to determine what was best for the overall safety of players. Goodell just did what he thought would get Congress to back off quickly.

  28. mornelithe says: Jan 27, 2014 12:55 PM

    Hawkman – First off, the term ‘old-school’ was being used facetiously, because people tackle in the NFL all the time.

    Secondly, clothes lining someone shares absolutely nothing in common with the definition of a tackle, other than it involves an arm, and one person doing something to another person.

  29. mmason0071 says: Jan 27, 2014 12:58 PM

    The result of the survey is itself evidence that gthe players already have brain damage.

  30. stanmrak says: Jan 27, 2014 1:08 PM

    I don’t usually agree with Lou Holtz, but his idea for taking away the face masks, particularly for defensive players, is pure inspiration. They’ve made the helmets so good that players use it as a weapon, but thay’re not so good that they can prevent head and neck injuries. Players won’t make kamikazee hits if their face is left unprotected. They will make safer tackles. Rugby involves tackling as well, with NO helmets! Broken noses are easier to fix than concussions.

  31. anonymous135 says: Jan 27, 2014 1:43 PM

    Just to be clear, it goes both ways.. I think Cushing had his legs broken twice from the same type of play.. offense, defense, special teams.

    Simple physics with energy, momentum, power, direction.. SMASH

    Let’s be real.. on the Gronk play.. WE ALL KNOW that if 3 of those guys applied simultaneously ‘legal’ hits to Gronk, he’d be dragging all 3 of them 40 yards into the endzone for a TD with the finesse of a ballerina..

    I appreciate the speed of the game and split second reactionary muscle memory etc etc etc, but I see these above the knees and below the shoulder type tackles 88% of the time… it seems like 50% of the time these get flagged because the hit was so hard and clean it looked like it had to be worse than it actually was.. textbook.

    It’s hard to do something you’ve been coached the entirety of your career – hell James Harrison thought he needed to retire for a second… especially when the league changes the rules but the coaches who are your meal ticket continue coaching you up that way… We’ve even heard defiant players who headhunt who say their hands are tied and they go knee hunting now instead…

    It’s up to the NFLPA to ensure coaches know where the line is.. players can adapt.

  32. mrrusss says: Jan 27, 2014 2:41 PM

    Mommy and daddy gave me everything I want, and that’s how I view life. I think I’ll insist that in a sport based on huge guys hitting each other, I’ll complain about every injury. Then I’ll stamp my feet and demand some kind of ridiculous rule that does away with all injuries.

    Or here’s and idea. Why don’t we, as the public, focus on a way to make cabs safer so cabbies don’t get shot making a basic living, or reduce the number of people killed on highways, instead of acting like lawyers and demanding solutions every time a multi-millionaire who chooses to play a violent sport gets an bad injuwy.

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