Concussions in the NFL have been the topic of much debate over the past few months.  With the deaths of former players O.J. Murdock, Ray Easterling, and most notably Junior Seau, the affects of concussions on retired players have become increasingly worrisome, bringing into question the future of the league.

Recently, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has attempted to ensure the success and safety of the league for years to come with new rules to limit injuries off of kickoffs, as well as issuing a $30 million grant to the National Institutes of Health for medical research on neurological diseases.

“We hope this grant will help accelerate the medical community’s pursuit of pioneering research to enhance the health of athletes past, present and future,” said Goodell according to The Associated Press.

While the NFL is continuing to attempt to make the violent game safer for its athletes, the number of former players filing lawsuits against the league has increased as well.  As of late May, 81 lawsuits had been filed against the NFL, with a whopping total of 2,146 former player-plaintiffs.

Paul Anderson, a law student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City started a blog last January, NFLConcussionLitigation.com, to track concussion-related law suits against the NFL.  He keeps a spreadsheet to track the number of plaintiffs, as well as court documents and all of the league’s responses.

Although Anderson, like most others would like to see the NFL do more to decrease the risk of concussions, he does admit that it doesn’t all fall on Goodell, and the rest of the league officials.

“At the end of the day, the responsibility – a lot of it – does lie on the player.

Oakland Raiders wide receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey, was knocked out of a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3 of this current NFL season.  During an interview with NFL Network’s Andrea Kremer, Heyward-Bey may have made Anderson’s point when he was asked about whether or not he’ll now worry about his post-NFL life.

“No. It’s all about the next game. When I’m 50, I’ll worry about that when I’m there.”

Heyward-Bey’s response sums up why the NFL will never be able to fully create a safe environment for its players.

No matter how many new regulations are implemented, it is ultimately up to the coaches and their players on how they want to respond to the new regulations, as well as their overall approach to the game.  Many players feel they have to play the game with a chip on their shoulder, creating a “warrior culture” mentality.  Often times players lead with their head to make a tackle, leaving themselves susceptible to head injuries, all because of a false sense of safety with these new, highly padded helmets.

“I have to approach it that way. If I start second-guessing what happened … or if it might happen again, I don’t think I’ll be able to play football the way I want to,” said Heyward-Bey.

The fact of the matter is, there will never be a “perfect helmet.” Nearly half of all concussions do not result from a direct hit to the head; rather it occurs from a result of the brain being knocked around against the walls of the skull. In Heyward-Bey’s case, his concussion occurred from two different traumas, according to concussion specialist, Richard Filger: One, from a resulting snapping of the neck from the original hit; and two, from his head hitting the turf.

It is evident that the NFL is in for a long battle with its former players over this concussion issue.  While the suicide rate of former players continue to increase, the risk of other diseases have factored into the equation as well.  Players at the “speed” positions (quarterback, running back, safeties, and linebackers) are more susceptible to dying from ALS and Alzheimer’s due to head trauma from their playing days.

With the amount of suicides continuing to amount among former NFL players, it has become more and more frequent for those players to leave their brain unharmed, in hopes of having it examined by a research team.

This must tell Goodell, and the rest of the NFL something.  If suicide victims are asking for their brains to be evaluated, it means that there is something wrong the league, as even its own players are asking for some sort of change.

Unfortunately, it ultimately comes down to the players, and how they want to respond to the NFL’s modifications.  The players mentality is really what has to change, and there’s no rule that can change that.

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