"The issue" for the 2009 season was concussions, with high-profile players such as Brian Westbrook, Ben Roethlisberger, Clinton Portis and others sitting out due to head injuries. Last year, with awareness raised, the NFL reacted with measures requiring independent neurologists -- rather than team medical personnel -- to determine the proper time for the player to return to play, increased safety measures in training, and fired its own doctors chairing the panel on head injuries and brain trauma.
Now "the issue" for the 2010 season is the root of the problem leading to concussions: the violent hits, with the most notable player affected being the Eagles' DeSean Jackson.
I understand the reaction of the league to now consider ejections and suspensions. That is, however, reactionary to a style of play that has been taught - and glamorized by the networks - for years. Do we really believe that James Harrison of the Steelers or Dunta Robinson of the Falcons played any differently on those violent plays than they have in playing football for the past fifteen years?
This is not a new problem. As we know, football is not a contact sport; it is a collision sport, a series of train wrecks that thousands of young men willingly sign up for every year. For every one of the 2000 players in the NFL, there are hundreds in line to take that job. Very few people around the game - players, coaches, administrators, even doctors -- are thinking about long-term issues with the player; the focus is on the next practice, the next game, the next contract.
The steps now being taken by the league -- increasing fine amounts for egregious hits and suspending players as well -- are admirable, even if reactionary. However, this is not an NFL problem. This is a football problem, with its roots sunk in way before these players enter the NFL.
One easy action step to take is for the networks to stop showing these violent hits repeatedly. In an hour on ESPN last night, I saw the crushing blow to DeSean Jackson eight times. Networks still have opening segments where helmets of the opposing teams crash into each other. At least ESPN has, I think, discontinued its "Jacked Up" segment that glorified the very hits we are critical of now.
Suspensions or not, there will be more bone-jarring hits from this coming weekend's games and they will be shown over and over on highlight packages. This is a problem that will be hard to solve.