Size Matters in NFL Injuries
We are all of one game into the 2016-2017 NFL football season and concussions are already in the headlines. The Denver Bronco’s and the Carolina Panthers kicked off the season with a Thursday night matchup that showed why the NFL is so popular, as the game turned on a missed field goal with seconds left. Unfortunately much of today’s post-game talk is not about the thrilling ending but about the pounding and blows to the head that were sustained by Panthers QB Cam Newton. Newton, the NFL MVP last year, took several severe blows that ranged from legal to clearly illegal and near the end of the game looked dazed in close ups.

The NFL has a physics problem. As the players continue to get bigger and faster the hits and tackles become more forceful and dangerous. Size matters. If you were to be hit today by defensive lineman Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens, who weighs 335 lbs, you would be getting “jacked up” with close to 1700 lbs. of force. Compare this to getting hit by 1927 defensive lineman Morris “Red” Badgro whose 190 lbs. would generate 970 lbs. of force.

I have looked into he physics of this and it’s complicated, having to do with angles, conservation of momentum, acceleration and on and on. Put simply bigger faster players are generating more powerful vicious hits. Think of it like boxing where lightweights bash each other repeatedly without noticeable consequence while heavyweights, when they connect with punches, produce “lights out” knockouts. While bodies have been getting larger and faster brains are not getting any tougher and are subject to the same force/damage consequences as they always have been.

Safety equipment is apparently not keeping up as the number of concussions increased in 2015 vs 2014. Techniques are being taught that seek to eliminate head first blows which concentrate force. Some teams have brought in Rugby players and coaches to teach tackling without the head. Unfortunately the head is attached to the shoulders, the main active components involved in tackling. When players go to deliver a blow, at full speed, with the shoulder, it’s very hard to leave the head out of it.

Ironically the NFL is at the heights of its popularity, even as players flee the youth football system and people who hate football for other reasons, like its masculine meritocracy, lobby for its neutering. The NFL has a problem, not only in the obvious dangers of the sport but in the possible declining quality of play due to so many injuries. As of now these issues are getting worse and nobody as yet has a solution.

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Thane Ritchie is the founder of Ritchie Capital Management who currently is involved in private equity and energy investments.