When two of the NFL’s top current quarterbacks joined three legends at a charity event in San Francisco Friday, a panel discussion moderated by Bob Costas centered on the topic of player safety.
And the differences in answers between former and current players underlines the difficulties involved in making the game safer.
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers were joined by Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jim Plunkett, and they each shared their takes on the state of the game.
“I don’t know what can be done without changing the very nature of the game, the violence of the game, the way people hit one another,” Plunkett said. “They’re probably doing a lot better job now of stopping the hits to the head. They’re not letting people fly through the air. They’re working extremely hard at this.
“In the meantime, the effects of concussion are coming to light. Especially my generation. I have so many friends or people I’ve played against just going through a hell of a time at this stage of their lives. I know something’s got to be done. Exactly what it is, I’m not sure.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers echoed Plunkett’s uncertainty, but said equipment advances have to be the first step. He said the helmet he wore in 2005 is no longer legal, saying he thinks his current helmet protected him from at least two concussions.
“It’s just in this era, as opposed to when the three of you (Montana, Young, Plunkett) played, every injury is highlighted more,” Rodgers said. “Every little ding to the head is labeled as a concussion.
“The protocol for concussions cannot be any more difficult to get back on the field. And I don’t know if you’ve had this, Tom, but it is incredible the process and the tests you have to go through to get back on the field. So something is being done. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to go through some years of learning what those steps look like, but I don’t think there’s a whole lot more that can be done.”
Montana said recent conversations with the Target-Chip Ganassi racing team also pointed to the need for further improvements.
“One of the factors they found with head injuries is that a football helmet weighs between 5 and 7 pounds,” Montana said. “They designed a helmet that weighs 2 pounds. And that difference between the three or four pounds is supposed to reduce those head injuries by a lot. They’re going through the process.
“But I think it’s really difficult. He were are trying to protect, protect, protect (but) the more you stay protected, the more aggressive you can get.”
That’s the Catch-22 of the entire argument. The more protected players feel, the more chances some are willing to take. The league’s tried legislating that out of the game, but as the quarterbacks pointed out, there simply may not be a way to take the risk out of the game.