Open letter to the NFL: Simple physics says every hit is a blow to the head.
If you want to protect long term player safety and brain health in the NFL the price both players pay for any hit in immediate pain must increase. How? Remove the helmet and pads. No one will lead with their head when tackling anymore because everyone will feel the pain immediately. They will realize that smashing into each other at nearly 20 miles an hour is insane, and they will seek ways to do it that avoid that pain by learning to impact at angles rather than head on.
It sounds insane, I know, but only as long as it takes to think it through.
No helmet or body armor (that’s what pads have become) can change the physics of a brain slamming into the skull at fifteen to nearly forty miles per hour, ricochetting back and forth inside its nut case until it stops. This brain liquifying happens every hit to the varying degree of speed. The faster the combined speed, the greater the brain sloshing. No head shot required, so long as the head remains attached to the body that rapidly stopped. The body stops suddenly, the brain doesn’t. Inertia is basic physics, yet no one is talking about it. Increase helmet technology all you want — it only diminishes the pain of impact, motivating harder, faster, more direct hits. The brain will coup countrecoup even more. Simple physics.
This is where biology is critical to understand. The sloshing of the brain with rapid change in speed is called coup countrecoup. It causes different parts of the brain to move at different speeds and in various directions from each other, like a bowl of jello dropped on the floor. Sheering of neural connections happens. Bruising from shattered capillaries happens. Every time. Every hit. The more speed, the more direct the impact, the greater the sheering. Simple physics and biology combined. Hit after hit compounds the damage, much like sequential earthquakes in a B disaster movie causing greater and greater damage to a city, each earthquake becoming exponentially harder and harder to recover from.
Pain is an amazing teacher
Want to increase the long term brain health of NFL players? Increase the risk to their short term health. Let them feel the pain of their hits. Pain is an amazing teacher. Remove the helmet and pads and motivation to minimize impacts rises dramatically. No one wants to feel the pain of a 40 mile an hour impact smashing into a wall. Everyone will impact at an angle instead of head on. Pain is a great teacher and motivator. No one runs into a wall head on at full speed. It’s simple physics and biology. yet that is what happens every play of every game in the NFL. Want to protect NFL players? Allow the pain.