Commentators set tone on NFL concussions debate
Mr. Collins was diagnosed with a stinger, and played Sunday.
“As long as a hit is clean and fair and within the techniques and fundamentals of how the game is to be played, I’ve got no problem highlighting that or making it a point of emphasis,” said ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, whose career as a running back was cut short by concussions. “I will never credit or applaud or highlight or emphasize improper techniques or deliberate acts of brutality. And there are some of those that take place.”
Even that debate between Mr. Sanders and Mr. Mariucci was enlightening. While Mr. Sanders said he saw nothing wrong with the hit, Mr. Mariucci not only said it was illegal, but told viewers why — when he referred to Mr. Shipley as “defenseless.”
“One of our big challenges, it’s like we have to reintroduce how to play the game. We have to teach it right,” Mr. Hoge said. “We almost have to reintroduce that to our youth levels. And then, obviously, over time it’s going to change. But we’re not going to change it overnight.”
Case in point: When Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb went down with a concussion in the first week of the season, someone could be heard making cuckoo noises when the highlight was first shown on the NFL Network’s website. That same week, an analyst described a linebacker who was staggering off the field as being “on queer street.” Neither comment was part of later highlight packages.
“We have always been sensitive and will continue to be sensitive to injuries and player safety,” Eric Weinberger, executive producer for NFL Network, said through the league. “We cover all aspects of the games in our news shows, but we do not use illegal hits to promote our sport.”
Mr. Weinberger declined to answer further questions, including whether the NFL Network edits out comments that could be seen as glorifying hits that could cause a head injury.
Part of the reason networks hire analysts like Mr. Sanders, Michael Irvin and Terry Bradshaw is because their colorful personalities ratchet up the entertainment value of a show. Even Colts fans had to laugh when Mr. Sanders yelled, “Scobee-Dobee-Doo!” as Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee kicked a 59-yard field goal on the final play to beat Indianapolis.
Sometimes, though, comments that might once have been funny can be seen as insensitive.
As the line between a great hit and one that’s illegal gets clearer, Mr. Nowinski said he hopes comments like that will fade.
“From the health perspective, we need the country to buy in on this,” he said. “And the people on the front line are the announcers.”