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Revisiting the League’s Response to Helmet Hits

Congrats to Monty for being all over the atrocious assault on Davante Adams by the Bears’ Danny Trevathan – and to TP commenters for their insights and outrage. Here’s a slo-mo of the hit.

During the last offseason, I dedicated a five-part series on the issue of such intentional hits to the helmet and what might be done about them. Here’s just one.

Roger Goodell and his minions just don’t get it, and apparently never will. The hit on Adams was indeed as egregious as they come: the play was essentially over, the player was in the grips of two defenders and defenseless, and the attacker built up a head of steam and aimed the helmet crown directly at Adams’ head and face.

Here’s what it’s going to take: an NFL player is going to have to be rendered paralyzed or suffer extensive brain damage – to put it bluntly, be reduced to a vegetative state – before Goodell gets it through his vegetative orb that he bears responsibility for it. Moreover, the disabled player probably will have to be one of the league’s stars for there to be sufficient public pressure to cause Goodell to act.

The other possibility is legal action. With each incident such as this one, evidence accumulates that the league is negligently, recklessly, or intentionally allowing such larceny. Given the NFL’s decades’ long refusal to adequately address these hazardous acts, it’s almost inevitable there is going to be a $100 million verdict against the league in the near future.

I also predict that when the next player suffers permanent disability due to an obvious intentional act such as Trevathan’s, a criminal charge of assault will be filed. It will of course be by the county in which the victim plays for the home team – and a local jury will readily render a guilty verdict.

There have already been a dozen or more NFL players suffering permanent and severe disabilities due to violent hits to the head. I’d have to go back and check, but I don’t recall any that were as blatant as what we witnessed last evening. If Adams were to suffer permanent disability, which we all pray he doesn’t, this would be the perfect test case for either a civil suit or a criminal filing. Without severe medical damage, however, we probably won’t see any legal remedies being attempted.

The most pressure to alleviate helmet hits and the like has properly been directed toward the NFL administrators who have the luxury of reviewing the play at length, viewing the play from various camera angles and subject to slow-motion, and, if they wish, interviewing members of the officiating crew who were only a few yards away from the incident. Because the NFL has a large group of lawyers, who undoubtedly must be – or sure as hell should be – consulting during these reviews, it amazes me that the league keeps opening itself up to such litigation.

A Modest Proposal

I’ll grant you what I’m about to propose may not sound like much, but every way this problem can be attacked or alleviated should be utilized.

As is so common, the referees refused to eject Trevathan. The league’s regulations, which are needlessly confusing (and contradictory), clearly allow for this. Generally, some rules say a player “may” be ejected if it’s determined to be a flagrant foul; elsewhere an ejection appears to be mandatory. Let’s clean this crap up. Get rid of the flagrant foul blather and determination, by simply saying ejection is automatic for any intentional helmet-to-helmet hit.

As Adams lay there while his teammates called for the medics, this officiating crew huddled for what seemed like an eternity. Trevathan stayed in the game. Did they even discuss the matter of ejection?

At the risk of being overly legalistic, if a trial were to occur, and these officials were called as witnesses, if they were to say they never even considered an ejection, that could jeopardize getting a conviction. And if they said we did bring up ejecting Trevathan, but what we saw at our excellent vantage points didn’t seem to warrant it, that would make it harder yet to get a favorable verdict.

So, my proposal is to make officiating crews more accountable and responsible for their handling of hits to the head. This entire officiating crew should be suspended for at least the next two games. They should also be excluded from officiating in any playoff games this season. There’s precedent for use of such discipline. Hit them in their pocketbooks.

I further suggest that such crews be required to undergo a special remedial training program. It should include hours of film studies and breakdowns that illustrate the type of hits that have caused serious or permanent injuries in the past – actually, this should be required of every ref before every season. They should have two-way conversations with doctors about the medical ramifications of such injuries. They should also hear from former NFL players whose lives have been devastated by head injuries, whether intentional or accidental – there are plenty of them available.

Finally, I would like to see this remedial program include some mandatory visits to some care centers that house patients who are paralyzed or who have serious brain damage.

It’s a small step, but it’s something more than the empty gestures the NFL has so far been making.

Rob Born

Due to Aaron Rodgers’ reckless ways, I’m officially launching the Campaign for GM Gutekunst to Acquire the Best Available (Veteran) Backup Quarterback – NOW.



  1. Cheese September 29, 2017

    Fuck Danny Trevathan and fuck the refs for not ejecting him. And if the NFL doesn’t suspend him for this blatant hit then fuck them too.

  2. Gort September 29, 2017

    Search for the Todd Bertuzzi–Steve Moore incident, from a egregious hit during a NHL game in 2004. It is not quite an “apples to apples” comparison to the hit on Adams because the hockey incident appears to be clearly a premeditated and deliberate act. However, assault charges were filed and a guilty plea was eventually reached.

    I like Rob’s suggestions with regards to holding the refs accountable for thear response, or lack thereof.

    1. Robster September 29, 2017

      I knew assault charges have often been contemplated re assaults during sporting games, but didn’t know of the precedent you cited. Of course a change in venue would be sought, but it would not be automatically granted.

  3. Ron September 30, 2017

    I’m starting to think that the only way to fix this problem is to either replace the hardened plastic helmet with the old fashioned leather helmet or remove the helmet altogether. The keep trying to make them safer but as long players keep using them as weapons this will never stop.

    1. Ender October 2, 2017

      I agree Ron. I also thought of the idea of them going back to leather helmets as a solution to this type of play style. Take away the helmet, lets see who leads with their head then. I’m also interested to find out if there are any stats or old news articles about players back in the day, who used those leather helmets, if they had head injuries or concussions? Though I’m not sure if they would’ve been able to diagnose a concussion back then. Either way, I still believe that taking the hard helmet away, and giving them the leather helmets would solve this targeting issue.

  4. Abe Frohman October 2, 2017

    The NFL definitely does need to crack down on this bullshit. I also think that the NFLPA is equally as guilty here, however. On the one hand, one of their dues paying members was injured. On the other, it was done by another of their dues paying members. Last I heard, Trevathan was considering an appeal. How can you be for “player safety” when you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth?