Shut Up and Dribble: The NFL Still Doesn’t Give a Shit About Safety

Mason Rudolph Was Literally Knocked Unconscious and the League Isn’t Doing Anything

  • Each year of playing football increases chances of developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy by 30 per cent according to Jesse Mez, MD and Director at Boston University. Graphic Breea Kobernick

When this column started and we decided to start tackling issues off the field, I expected there to be a lot of NFL-related content. That isn’t much of a stretch for a league that seemingly makes it their M.O. to be as awful as possible.

However, after the way the whole Antonio Brown saga was handled, along with Vontaze Burfict of the Oakland Raiders being suspended for the rest of the season for an absolutely disgusting display of needless violence, I started to think to myself that maybe the whole league is actually, somehow, getting their act together.

And as soon as that naive, silly little thought popped into my head, the NFL we all know and hate reared its ugly head with the ironic timing of an It’s Always Sunny in Philladelphia title card.

They were back at it again, and this time it was dishearteningly on-brand. During the third quarter of a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph was rushing out the pocket with the ball when Ravens safety Earl Thomas came up and hit him right in the chin.

Helmet-to-helmet contact is sadly nothing new to the game, but this was different.

This hit knocked Rudolph out cold. He laid completely unconscious on the field, while medics rushed to help him. It was a predatory hit and is something that the league has said they’re making strides to mitigate.

While the hit wasn’t targeting—the illegal play where a defender leads a tackle with their head and makes helmet-to-helmet contact—Thomas, he had ample time to adjust himself and hit Rudolph in a safer manner, but he didn’t.

And yet, no suspension. No ejection. Only a simple roughing the passer call.

I’m not saying Earl Thomas deserves a punishment akin to what Burfict was handed, especially since it’s his first offence. That being said, Thomas should know better and someone with his experience making this play is extremely disappointing.

What happened last Sunday is a nine-year veteran of the league—who had the respect of nearly everyone in it for his hard-hitting, but clean play—instinctively hit a quarterback in an extremely dangerous way.

Mason Rudolph is 6’5” and Earl Thomas is 5’10”. Essentially, what we have here is a defender—with all the time in the world to correct his approach—make contact up high and with the head of a player seven inches taller than him.

The culture of “the big hit” is not exclusive to football, the use of it to generate hype on a team is almost a necessity in other sports like hockey and rugby. It is however the only contact sport with a governing body that has actively fought against changing the way the game is played at nearly every single level.

To add insult to injury, the medical cart that was meant to carry players with serious injuries off the field quickly, broke down on the field. They let a man who just suffered a massive brain injury walk off the field instead of being carted off. How can the NFL claim to care about standards of care for injured players when something like this happens?

Time and time again, the NFL puts on a whole show about how player safety is a top priority and yet horrifying events like this keep happening. Mason Rudolph will most likely never fully recover and Earl Thomas gets away virtually scot-free? Bullshit.

It’s gotten to the point where the line between signing a contract to play pro football and signing up for permanent brain trauma is becoming increasingly blurred.

The concussion protocol has evolved and so has the treatment, but if there is no fundamental shift in both the culture of football and the way these new rules are being enforced, then they’re all empty words.

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