Playing Without Protection: Solving Football’s Concussion Crisis | Learn Liberty

Playing Without Protection: Solving Football’s Concussion Crisis | Learn Liberty

In the last couple of years many people have
declared that American Football is in crisis, as former players are suffering from brain
damage in increasing numbers. Numerous studies have linked brain damage to concussions—
and since 2009, the number of concussions has jumped almost 70%, even as the league
has made rule changes to try to solve the problem.
Maybe rule changes alone won’t do the trick. Are there others ways to save the game, and
make it safer for players? We could start… by ditching the helmets.
Or at the very least, by making them flimsier. Do I sound crazy? Wouldn’t head injuries
be worse without the protection of helmets?? Maybe not. Over the same period that helmets
and other equipment have become stronger and more protective, concussions have actually
increased. And studies comparing the NFL to the helmet-free Australian Football League
indicate that NFL players are 25% more likely to suffer concussions than the Australian
players. One possible explanation is what economists
call “moral hazard.” When we try to insure people against the consequences of negative
outcomes, we reduce their incentive to avoid those outcomes of their own accord. So by
trying to soften the bad outcome, we actually make that outcome more likely
Think about the football helmets: the better that they protect players’ heads, the more
players may feel invulnerable or the more they might use their heads as weapons, given
how well protected they supposedly are. Today’s players are more aggressive, and more likely
to tackle with their heads—and hence they suffer from more concussions – than players
did ten or twenty years ago. Moral hazard doesn’t just affect football;
it has important implications for public policy. It’s a big reason why all kinds of laws
and public policies that are meant to make us safer can actually have the opposite effect.
For example, how should we reduce car accidents/injuries? We can mandate airbags and seatbelt use, but
some studies show that this leads to people driving more aggressively because they now
feel safer. A recent study from Texas A&M shows that the introduction of mandatory seat-belt
laws led to higher car accident fatality rates among non-occupants such as bicyclists and
pedestrians. An Australian study found that drivers of large SUVs were more likely to
engage in risky cellphone use while driving, perhaps because they believed the SUV made
them safer. These innovations do indeed make people safer,
but innovations that make us safer might cause to take risks we wouldn’t have before. And
those risks might cause harm others that offsets those gains.
Making people safer is tough—and you always have to pay attention to the incentives you’re
creating. Getting rid of fancy helmets might not be the whole solution to the NFL’s concussion
crisis, but it’s worth considering. Making players just a bit more conscious of their
own vulnerability, and that of their opponents, might reduce the number and severity of concussions.
People might say this makes the game less fun to watch, but how much fun is football
to watch when star players are constantly being injured, or deciding they don’t want
to risk their long-run health by playing the game?
Incentives matter and more safety can be bad for your health

26 Replies to “Playing Without Protection: Solving Football’s Concussion Crisis | Learn Liberty”

  1. I've read that the introduction of gloves to boxing led to more concussions since more people would try to punch their opponents harder or in the head. Before it was all bare handed so hand injuries were very likely if you aimed for the head.

  2. yup, yup. i believe contact sports shouldnt have such padding! for example boxing glove just make boxers hit each other's head that lead to brain damage when without padding on one own fist, people are less likely to hit the head as the head have very tough bones. 

  3. Using concussions in football is a terrible way to demonstrate moral hazard. Suggesting flimsier helmets as a way to prevent concussions? Seriously? Most concussions are accidental. If they had flimsier helmets, we'd be talking about contusions and broken heads rather than concussions.

    The speed of the game is a constant. It is "baked in" to the game and injury is a natural consequence of it. It does not depend on the safety equipment. Rugby and Aussie football players would kill themselves if they played American football with no pads. NFL tactics would be impossible without pads, because the game itself is set up to be executed in such a way that is highly conducive to injury. As they say, injuries are part of the game.

    Obviously, the safety equipment is there to mitigate the injury risk. Most players objected to the newly-mandated thigh and knee pads. Did anything change once they were instituted? No, except that there were fewer knee and thigh bruises from impacts.

    Instances of concussion have become more frequent due to stricter screening and more careful diagnoses. Players of the past, including those suffering from CTE, played with vastly inferior protective gear, and some may have (perhaps often) played through concussions. It may not have been documented.

    Saying that the new rules and the new gear have increased moral hazard is a joke. If you need any more convincing, go watch Jack Lambert and Jack "The Assassin" Tatum. As they demonstrate, the hazard is the foundation of the game, and is a consequence of what makes the sport unique. Big hits are often made with the intention to take valuable players out of the game. The moral hazard is not "It's going to hurt him more than it's going to hurt me." Rather, it's, "If knock his head off but get hurt, it's going to hurt their team more than it's going to hurt mine."

    Without pads, the game would probably evolve to resemble rugby (amorphous and spontaneous rather than rigid and planned), and a lot more people would get hurt in the process. It'd probably make running the ball from set plays impossible, the forward pass would have to go, and then you'd have no more use for linemen. The NFL would instantly lose its identity. You'd have smaller guys going for the legs of bigger guys (moral hazard here: I can take his knees out instead of getting bulldozed) and we'd be talking about knee instead of brain injuries.

    The best way to decrease the concussion risk is to instill form tackling (as the Seahawks have recently emphasized) while penalizing hits outside the "strike zone". I think the NFL is doing what they can to help the problem, but labeling their efforts as moral hazard is soft of like faulting rain for making the pool wet.

  4. Incentives do matter. Keep paying millions to have people ram into one another, and they will still do it, helmets or not.

  5. I think that the video fell short of some general demonstrable principles, because, whereas his claims make some sense and have some examples to bake them, it also makes room for arguments like:
    "How about not using condoms in order to lessen sexual transmitted diseases?"

  6. As someone who currently plays rugby in college and a former football and hockey player, I'd have to say the problem here is equipment and coaching. In rugby from day one we were taught to tackle cheek to cheek, aka side of rear to face while we drive the shoulder into the midsection. You keep your arms in tight so you don't separate your shoulder, wrap around the legs and drive the opponent backwards (note drive-not lift into the air and dump the player on the ground). In football we were taught to tackle shoulder to chest, which is fine with padding but in rugby that results in broken bones and worse. Thus, take away the padding or make it softer and more foam-like, not plastic, and you take away the incentive to hit as hard as you can. And, teach players when they first begin to play to tackle properly, cheek to cheek and not with the head. You will see less injuries. People forget it hurt back in the day to tackle in football or give a check in hockey, now we virtually have gladiators on the field or ice with all their armor. Teach the game correctly and take away some padding so you feel human and not invincible, and there will be significant reductions in injuries.

  7. Well then, all ignorance aside, I believe the answer to the helmet question has just been answered within the discussion. If you are correct, then a quasi-obvious answer is to use throw away crumple plates affixed to your pads and helmet. Maybe you miss one play to put in fresh ones where crinkled, but the upside should be bigger health wise. You'd have to make them potentially sturdy, but fairly thin with easy slot-ability. Yes?

  8. I like the broader application. It still puzzles me why players choose to take the risk knowing current statistics regarding injuries. Many people just enjoy the thrill of taking the risk. Bull fights, riding wild animals, skydiving, motorcycle riding, vehicle destruction derbies, car races, skiing, military duty, firefighting, law enforcement, and such are all things people choose to do, knowing the risks.

    Helmets made to give more may decrease the current injury numbers, but as was mentioned, if the players feel more safe, they take more risks.

  9. Reminds me of the ABM system that was a defense against ICBM attack. Having the ABMs put amerikans in more danger because the "enemy" would commit to launch even more ICBMs in an attack to get flood the ABM system hence requiring the "enemy" to acquire even more war heads.  

  10. Not the best assumed expectations. Highest rated comments on this video appear to be in most agreement.  There's a reason why.

  11. Australian rules is a completely different sport it is not primarily a collision sport the tackling is focused on wrapping up the player and ball  not direct impacts, the most brutal collisions come from jumping for high balls and colliding in the air or 'bumping' which is two players hitting each other with their shoulder. Also the body shapes are completely different afl players have are lighter, fitter more comparable to a "crossfit" type physique and have great vertical leaps kind of like a more physical basketball.

    Rugby would have been a better example, no padding and similar direct collisions and the players have similar proportions and physiques. Without the padding rugby players grow up focusing more on technique and safe tackling this is why a typical rugby (union) tackle is quite different it involves getting in a low strength position, hitting with your shoulder on the players hips, you make sure your head is to the side so as to not collide with the players knees (head on arse) than wrap with the arms and drive taking out the players legs. With this technique if done properly a  little man can tackle a big man without getting hurt.

    My point is taking away helmets is stupid without teaching the players proper technique and moderating their behaviour in fact you could keep the helmets and just teach NFL players to tackle differently and the spectacle wouldn't change all that much rugby tackles are still brutal.

  12. There is no "crisis". That's statist talk. "Crisis" implies a need for intervention and action. If people choose to engage in a sport that has an insignificant probability of suffering head damage, and an in turn, an insignificant amount get hurt, it is not a crisis. It wouldn't be a crisis even if 100 percent of them did so knowing that there was a 100 percent chance for head damage.

  13. This is self-evident to those of us who've coached or played the game. Eliminate the helmet… in fact, pads entirely (well, except for basic fall protection like knee pads and the like)… would make for a much safer sport.

  14. Comparing numbers across time and nations in regards to concussions might sound good and all, but it's flawed. The ability to accurately diagnose a concussion (and the willingness to actually do so) has gone up dramatically in the United States in the past decade or so. If doctors are better at diagnosing concussions, then the levels of diagnoses in concussions would go up significantly if they were previously under-diagnosed. Comparing rates internationally is hard because the standards for concussions, as well as differences in the actual tests that are used for diagnosis, can very. Finally, rugby and football are separate sports. It is entirely possible that a big reason why there are fewer concussions in rugby than football is because the game is played differently. 

  15. Ok, the moral hazard argument is awful here. 

    The reason helmets should be changed (NOT REMOVED) is because the current helmet is rigid. That means that, when a player gets hit, they hit their helmet, causing a concussion. 

    The flaw in the moral hazard argument is that helmets cause players to play more aggressively. Why on earth would I believe this over, say, players who want to become football stars are highly competitive, and thus, play more competitively, which in football might mean more aggressively? Or maybe it might have something to do with the culture of the NFL and the sport, where hitting people is encouraged, and even dirty hits some times come with bonuses? 

  16. There is a new study called the Dawn Comstock study that showed for every 1 pound of neck strength, your chances of a concussion are reduced by 5%.  More and more teams (not just football) are incorporating Neck strength conditioning into their workouts.  I did a video about it.  Check it out by clicking > Neck Circuit Training

  17. there is a very simple solution: make the helmets soft but firm, like the boxing helmets they use in the Olympics. problem solved.

  18. i think we should make all cars have the fuel tanks highly explosive, and put on the front of the cars, i drive a volvo, and it's ridicoulously safe…………for me.
     i never forget it's a leathel weapon for bikers or pedestrians

  19. When they played without helmets in 1905, 20 players died. 
    NFL players also get hit far more frequently during the game

    The concussion problem is best solved by encouraging stronger necks, and also improving medicine so it can better treat concussions, although this will take time. 

  20. Y’all realize the reason why the nfl added pads and a helmet was so guys could hit harder and attract viewers. You take that away rate of contact goes down less brain sloshing in the head less concussions and brain damage have a minimum age of football at late middle school- hs. Change the culture a bit a proper technique and let’s move on this can be easily done but for a lot of people the big hits are the attraction

  21. I completely agree with this videos idea of incentive, concussions have only increased since the introduction of the helmet

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