As concerns about concussions and brain injuries in football continue to rise, a new system to monitor the impact of hits football players take on the field each day may help doctors, trainers, and coaches decipher when players may be too injured to return to the field. The Helmet Impact Telemetry System, known as HITS, places six sensors inside a player’s helmet to measure and record the impact of each hit. Some schools, like Georgia Southern University, have already instituted the system in hopes that it will help them better monitor their athletes and improve responses to concussions and head injuries.
To most people, such a system would seem like a positive step toward understanding how certain plays impact players and how we might improve football safety. To right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, the sensors are another sign of America’s decline. “It’s being chickified,” Limbaugh said at the end of a long rant last week. “The whole thing. Everything in our culture is being chickified.”
Wednesday, former NFL player Leonard Marshall shot back, calling Limbaugh “irresponsible.”
“It’s very irresponsible,” Marshall, who played 11 seasons in the NFL, said on SiriusXM’s The Agenda. “How about you become the father of a 17-year-old boy who plays in a football game on a Friday night, and is in need of medical attention. It takes 15 minutes for the medics to get there to attend to this kid who gets injured, and your kid dies on the football field. How about being that parent?”
Limbaugh has often criticized rule changes and efforts to reduce concussions and brain injuries in football, largely because he doesn’t believe the “conventional wisdom” about the long-term effects of concussions. He’s called efforts to make football safer a scheme to “poison people’s minds about football” so it will be banned and said those same rule changes are “paving the way” for the downfall of the sport.
It’s usually easy to dismiss Limbaugh as a right-wing radio shock jock who’s trying to get attention. But in this instance, he might not be that far from the mainstream. Some professional players have complained about rule changes, and it isn’t hard to find fans complaining that those changes have taken “the football out of football.” Limbaugh referring to it as “chickified” is a more sexist and offensive way of making the same point. It’s also a way to make the problem worse, since the obvious response is to prove supposed masculinity by risking their physical well-being.
Limbaugh’s point is wrong. New research each year is showing more about the dangers concussions pose to football players, and leagues like the NFL and NCAA didn’t do enough in the past to combat them or educate their players about them. New efforts like the HITS sensors, updated concussion tests, and the mesh sensor system being studied at the University of Nebraska aren’t meant to undermine football but to gather more data about what it does to the human brain and it find out if it can be played safely and how to make it safer if it can be. Rule changes at the NFL and NCAA levels and the education programs youth leagues now participate in are attempts to make the game safer until more conclusive research exists. That isn’t taking football out of football or worsening the game, it’s just an attempt to change it for the better.
The dangers concussions pose still haven’t quite sunk in with current players or the league they play in, largely because attitudes like Limbaugh’s remain so pervasive. Instead of criticizing the changes and playing radio shock jock, Marshall called on Limbaugh to be part of the solution.
“Watch and hope that there is change coming down the pike,” Marshall said. “Be part of that change. Be part of trying to empower young people with knowledge and information about the risk associated with playing tackle football.”
Limbaugh probably won’t ever take that advice, but it’s a valuable approach for players, coaches, and fans who still share his view.