Wellness·4 min read

Is There A Way To Make Tackle Football Less Dangerous?

NFL Eagles player flipping over 49ers player during tackle
February 8, 2023

Damar Hamlin’s accident recently highlighted the issue, but it’s always been true: Playing football comes with health risks. It consistently tops the lists of sports injury rates because it has “a little bit of everything,” said orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Dr. David Geier. “You don't just have knee and shoulder musculoskeletal injuries, but you also have concussions and long-term side effects of that.” 

Still, we watch. The athletic prowess, deep regional ties, comebacks, underdog stories, sibling rivalries, and dramatic big catches and hits make for must-see TV. More than 80 of the top 100 broadcasts in the US were NFL games last year, including the Super Bowl, which pulled in nearly 100 million viewers. 

Aren't most sports dangerous?

Contact sports like ice hockey and lacrosse can lead to serious head injuries, and the soccer header is notoriously unsafe. But football is most connected to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease associated with former players’ depression, dementia, and suicide. All the tackling and blocking can lead to “sub-concussive blows,” Dr. Geier said. Those hits might seem mild, but they can cause serious brain damage over time. 

Can we make football any safer?

So long as it’s tackle football, there’s a risk that “the brain will slam around inside the skull,” Dr. Geier said. So it isn’t likely to ever be concussion-free. But the sport can be made safer by: 

  • Taking players out of the game ASAP post-hit. You might’ve seen this happen in the NFC title game, thanks to the NFL’s inclusion of unaffiliated neurotrauma specialists. But when players stay in, they risk serious — even fatal — injury.

  • Sharing data. Dr. Geier said that NFL data on all kinds of hits and injuries could inform environmental and equipment changes that could help protect players — like the rate of knee injuries on, say, field turf versus grass. And there are now smart helmets that can help teams analyze on-field hits.

  • Lessening the impact of blows. Neither helmet-to-helmet hits nor roughing the passer are currently allowed. Plus, guardian caps have made an entrance at practices. More safety recs from Dr. Geier: invest in softer field surfaces, have more non-contact practices, and prohibit linemen — who are most susceptible to CTE — from using a three-point stance


Football involves physical danger, which is one reason it makes for a dramatic watch. But as the health risks of playing become clearer, there will have to be continued investment in safety. The longevity of the sport — and its players — depends on it.

And Also...This

What can help prevent ovarian cancer…

Removing your fallopian tubes. Ovarian cancer experts have broadened guidance around who should consider surgery for the rare but deadly disease to include people who: 1) don’t plan to have children in the future and 2) are having gynecologic surgery for another reason (i.e. permanent birth control). The surgery was already recommended for those at high risk due to inherited genetic mutations (which you can test for), along with removing the ovaries. Something to consider if you’re already planning to have your tubes tied or have a family history of ovarian cancer.

What’s an unexpected risk of cracking your neck… 

Stroke. This surprising twist was brought to light by a recent, since deleted viral tweet where a woman alleged that her sister experienced stroke symptoms after visiting the chiropractor. But the truth is that *any* sudden snap, crackle, or pop of the neck vertebrae can put an artery in the neck at risk of tearing open, potentially resulting in clots that block blood flow to the brain (aka a stroke). Either way, crack wisely

What actually has effective treatments… 


Who's spotlighting Black pioneers in mental health for Black History Month… 

This clinical social worker.

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