Beverly Hills, Calif. •
As awareness of NFL head injuries has increased in recent years, NBC’s coverage of the game has changed, too.
"Sunday Night Football" analyst Cris Collinsworth said he feels "great responsibility" to keep the issue of concussions on the radar and to make sure the NFL is giving more than "lip service" to efforts to make the game safer.
NBC producer Fred Gaudelli said broadcasters are showing greater "sensitivity" when broadcasting games.
"Ten or 15 years ago [when] you had a big helmet-to-helmet collision, it was replayed. It was glorified." he said. "And I think as we’ve learned more about the after-effects of a football career and what can happen to these players, you don’t glorify it anymore.
"Football is a collision sport … but I do think NFL has taken some steps to take needless collisions out of it, whether it’s hits on defenseless players, whether it’s using your helmet outside of a particular area of the field as a battering ram."
At the same time, Collinsworth largely downplayed the seriousness of concussions as an ongoing issue. He compared the current concern over concussions to the early days of football a century ago when "there was talk that it would be abolished because people were dying at one time. And it was insane what the game was. And so it is a different game.
And he seemed somewhat misinformed about the issue. Although he said he and his wife watched PBS’ documentary "League of Denial," Collinsworth apparently missed the part that made it clear that improved helmets can prevent skull fractures but cannot prevent concussions, Collinsworth even said that in the time that his son, who plays football at Notre Dame, has been involved in the game, there have been "great improvements to the helmet technology."
And he’s encouraged by changes in rules that prohibit using the helmet as a weapon, changes to practice routines and more.
"I think what we all hope for is that these cases that we read about almost on a weekly basis become less and less as the years go on," he said. "But there’s a big culture change that has to happen. Football players are taught from the very beginning about toughness and sacrifice and playing injured and doing whatever it takes. And I think that we’re now seeing a very dramatic pullback from that. Let’s be smart and let’s not put people in harm’s way when we don’t have to put them there anymore."
He disagreed with former all-pro Harry Carson, who said he would not allow his grandsons to play football because of the danger involved.
"I think the most important thing in the world for most people is to learn how to get knocked on your ass and get back up and start fighting again," Collinsworth said. "And I think it happens to all of us in all walks of life. And football has a pretty unique way of teaching you how to do that."
He coached pee-wee and high school football "and the more I see of young men today and the lack of traditional families, a mom and a dad and dinner at night and all that, the more I think that the coaches in this country have a really significant role in our society and what great things they’re doing. So I’m thrilled that my kids play football."
He missed that kids can be coached in sports that don’t involve serious head injuries.
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