Five ways to make the NFL safer

Originally Published: October 22, 2010
ESPN.com

Helmet-to-helmet hits were a huge topic in the NFL this week. ESPN's Merril Hoge, Marcellus Wiley, Cris Carter, Mike Golic and Tim Hasselbeck -- all former NFL players -- offer their takes on how to make the game safer.

Merril Hoge: Re-emphasize fundamentals

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Trying to create a risk-free football environment is like trying to create a risk-free life -- both are unrealistic. But we can limit the number of violent hits by re-emphasizing the fundamentals of tackling at every level of the sport. I'm a youth football coach and that's the first thing I teach: Players are issued shoulder pads to use and helmets to protect. You don't launch your body or lead with your head; you play behind your pads and use your arms. In high school, college and the NFL, we must reintroduce the proper techniques if they're not being utilized.

The Patriots' Brandon Meriweather deliberately jumped and led with his head when he made contact with Ravens tight end Todd Heap in Week 6, and there's no place for that in football. But then you have guys who do everything in the correct fashion, make a really hard hit, and get penalized. Officials must be careful -- the second a player is hesitant in a moment of contact, I think there's a greater chance of injury than if it's at full speed. This is a physical sport and that cannot be undermined in all of this, but stressing the appropriate tackling behavior should prevent about 70 percent of the hits we saw in Week 6.

The other percentage? Those are just football collisions, and there's nothing you can do about it. Remember to keep perspective in all of this: I can think of maybe 10 really bad hits out of thousands that take place throughout the course of a season. And the best way to limit that handful of deliberately violent acts is to better educate the players.

•  Hoge on re-emphasizing fundamentals

Hoge played running back for the Steelers and Bears from 1987-94. His career was cut short by concussions.


Cris Carter: Make the field bigger

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One problem that people don't talk about enough is that we've been playing professional football for more than 100 years and no one has widened or lengthened the field. The guys are faster, the equipment is better, but the box we're playing in is still the same size. If they really want to try to create space and slow down the hitting, they would widen the field. Right now the field is 53.3 yards wide -- a lot of people don't know that. But if they wanted less contact in the game, they would widen it to give players more space.

Carter played wide receiver for the Eagles, Vikings and Dolphins from 1987-2002. (Carter's comments from "Mike &Mike in the Morning" on ESPN Radio.)


Marcellus Wiley: Update helmets, suspend players

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There have been at least 46 concussions or head injuries this season, compared to 24 last year. The NFL should make it a priority to lessen the impact of hard hits by using technology and science to research the best helmets available for professional players. I've been a part of the Head and Concussions Summit the past few years, and the Xenith helmet is far superior to the rest of the helmets I've seen in the league. However, only a handful of players are wearing those helmets. Secondly, if players continue to inflict helmet-to-helmet hits, they should be suspended. Simply handing out a fine does not affect a player's psyche. If he misses a game or two, it causes him to feel the disappointment of letting his teammates and the organization down.

Wiley played defensive end for four NFL teams from 1997-2006.


Mike Golic: Make mouth guards mandatory

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Mouth guards are mandatory in college, and the NFL needs to make them mandatory as well. How many times do we hear that some concussions are caused by the lower jaw getting jammed up into the upper jaw? The NFL has deals with apparel, soda and beer companies, so why don't they do a study to see which mouth guard company produces the best molded mouth guard that can protect players from getting concussions? The advantage to this option is that it's something the NFL can do right now. When I was playing football, they called concussions headaches, but now that the league's medical teams are more cognizant of the condition it is treated differently.

Golic played defensive tackle for the Oilers, Eagles and Dolphins from 1986-93.


Tim Hasselbeck: Don't overreact, NFL

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[+] EnlargeBrandon Meriweather hits Todd Heap
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonNew England safety Brandon Meriweather's hit on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap was dirty, Tim Hasselbeck writes.
The NFL has done a lot in recent years to address on-field violence and excessive hits. The league has recently outlawed three-man wedges. You can't hit the quarterback high and you can't hit him low. There are rules on the books to protect defenseless players. And defensive players have not been forgotten with the prohibition of crackback blocks.

What else is there to do? I can see Mike Golic's point about mandating mouth guards, although I don't fully understand what Cris Carter is getting at with expanding the field. I feel like taking more steps right now would be an overreaction that could cause more problems. For instance, to stress no helmet-to-helmet contact, there would be an emphasis on tacklers aiming lower. That technique could lead to players not seeing what they are hitting and possible paralysis because of lowered helmets.

I am all for ridding the league of dirty play. Meriweather's hit on Heap was a dirty play. He launched himself toward Heap's helmet. But if you look at it on tape, Dunta Robinson's hit on DeSean Jackson was legal. He hit him in the sternum. I understand that the force went up to the helmet and there was some facemask contact. But it was not an egregiously dirty hit. And Meriweather and Robinson were both fined $50,000. That large a fine, with no warning, is the kind of overreaction I am talking about.

The league always has made player safety a priority. The evolution of the rules shows that. I don't feel that a big move right now, based on a lot of tough hits this past Sunday, is the right thing to do.

Hasselbeck played quarterback for four teams from 2002-2007.