American football is a brutal game and so it should not be surprising that it occasionally erupts into outright violence. This feature was on display recently when Myles Garrett, a player for the Cleveland Browns, yanked off the helmet of an opposing player and repeatedly beat him on the head with it until he was restrained by other players. As is often the case there were events that led up to this assault but it was still egregious by any standards. In fact, yanking out a player’s helmet can be very dangerous because the neck is violently jerked. He has been suspended indefinitely but it made me wonder at what point this kind of on-field violence moves into a territory where the perpetrator is subject to legal prosecution.
Several lawyers believe the pro-football player can be criminally charged for Thursday’s game. According to Yahoo! Sports, Ohio lawyers said his actions can be defined as assault and the helmet could be considered a weapon—as the NFL also indicated.
“Technically, swinging an object of that form could constitute a felonious assault,” Joseph Patituce, an Ohio criminal defense attorney, told the outlet.
Such incidents, along with the ongoing controversy over brain injuries has prompted people to ask whether football can be made safe enough to play. Erik Swartz writes that some are arguing that tackling should be banned altogether,
Because of the growing concern about concussions, many people argue that tackle football should be banned. Opponents to this argue that tackle football is safer now, that coaches teach tackling differently. They argue that safer methods are reducing head impacts and the concussions that come with them. Yet, what are “safe” tackling techniques, and what does the data tell us about their impact on preventing concussions?
There is very little scientific evidence available to support claims that teaching tackling a certain way results in decreased head impacts, concussions or other injury.
Swartz says that all the protection that football players wear may be giving them a false sense of security and thus encouraging them do things that are dangerous. He says that the rugby model of playing without a helmet may be the way to go
Contrast this against another sport that involves a lot of tackling: rugby. While rugby players are definitely prone to sustaining concussions, American football is beginning to model the rugby style tackle of using their shoulders to initiate contact while avoiding head contact.
Based on risk compensation theory, rugby players tackle with their shoulders not only because they were taught that way, but because their heads are not protected with a helmet. Keeping the head out of the way simply develops naturally as an anticipatory reflex to protect the head.
But it looks like the NFL is not going to give up on helmets soon. Instead it is looking to see if they can improve helmets, even though the tests they are using are of doubtful validity. . Even if you wear a helmet, your brain is still jerked violently in any collision.
The dirty little secret of American football is that I think many of the fans love it precisely because of its violence and the bone-crunching tackles. They like to see bone-crushing tackles and would see their removal and a sign of wimpiness. It seems to stimulate the same kind of visceral response that I suspect gladiator contests of the past did and for this reason the NFL will make largely symbolic gestures towards safety.
It is similar to the way some members of the public love the violence of professional wrestling, even if they know that it is choreographed or the violence in films even though we know it is all acting. Maybe the NFL should have its players take acting classes and learn from pro wrestlers about how to fake tackles so that it looks vicious and the victim looks dazed and hurt but is actually harmless.