Over the weekend, Houston Texans rookie safety D.J. Swearinger executed a low hit on Miami Dolphin’s tight end, Dustin Keller. Swearinger rammed his helmet directly into Keller’s knee. It immediately looked bad, and yesterday we found it was. Keller will miss the entire 2013-2014 season, due to suffering a torn ACL, MCL, PCL, and dislocated knee. If you haven’t see the injury, you can watch it here.
Although the diagnosis couldn’t be any worse for Keller, it’s Swearinger’s reaction that got my attention. When asked about the injury, he told the Palm Beach Post,
I was making a hit playing football. In this league you’ve got to go low. If you go high, you’re going to get a fine….
The rules say you can’t hit high so I went low and I’m sorry that happened. I would think you’d rather have more concussions than leg injuries. Leg injury, you can’t come back from that. A concussion, you be back in a couple of weeks.
The latter part of Swearinger’s statement, where he suggested that concussions are less harmful because it requires less recovery time is a PR nightmare for Roger Goodell. I’m not privy to the depth of information provided to rookies during the symposium, but considering how the NFL continues to adapt its rules to prevent blows to the head, I’m confident this is not the kind of PSA the NFL and NFLPA had in mind. As a rookie, Swearinger is understandably extra cautious about following the rules. He knows that getting fined or penalized on a play will ultimately result in further discipline from his coaches and maybe his teammates. However, it seems that the NFL/NFLPA have missed the mark in getting players to truly understand the why behind the rule changes. Certainly the immediate impact of shattering someone’s knee into a million tiny pieces appears to be more catastrophic because Keller’s season is done, and maybe his career too. But as studies continue to prove, the long-term effects of concussions can ultimately lead to brain damage, depression, and subsequently suicide. There’s no coming back from that.
Not to single out Swearinger because I’m sure his opinion is a popular one among his peers. Yet his comments demonstrate, regardless of how much the NFL tries to show that it takes concussion prevention seriously, the NFL culture is the culture. Until the NFL is able to modify the thinking and established mindsets of its players, regarding the value placed on limbs versus the brain, the league will continue to lose the concussion battle.
photo via Yahoo! Sports