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How to fix football.

Football has problems. No, not the protracted labor dispute between the billionaires and millionaires. I’m talking about the grave health threat of concussions and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). A career’s worth of head trauma takes its toll, leaving players with brain damage and devastating emotional instability. As these harmful side effects come to light, the sport’s prognosis grows dim. If football is to survive, we must take player safety more seriously.

The fix

Here’s an idea: build G-meters into players’ helmets to track, record, and broadcast the force of each impact. League doctors would set an acceptable maximum acceleration. When a helmet registers anything greater, officials pull that player–no exceptions. In addition to this acute, one-blow limit, the rulebook could include a cumulative threshold. Once a player reaches his allotment of daily Gs, he rides the bench.

Not only would this preserve players’ health, it would add a new strategic wrinkle to the game. Teams would need to ration their star player’s G-level. If your star quarterback gets hammered in the first quarter, you might shift to a ground game to protect him–and keep him in the game.

The league could even share the live helmet data with fans. Fantasy footballers would gain yet another stat to obsess over. Monday morning quarterbacks would have one more reason to second-guess the coach.

Drawbacks

There are some downsides to such a plan. First, competitive escalation: if a hard hit automatically knocks out a player, teams might start targeting the opposing team’s stars to gain an advantage. My answer for this? Penalize the team that inflicted the blow. Say… automatic ejection for the tackler, plus drastic penalties for the offending team?

Another drawback? Such a system would be expensive. For the pros, that’s not a deal-breaker; the NFL is fantastically profitable and could probably absorb the equipment cost. But what about college ball? High school? Pee-wee? High-tech helmets with built-in, broadcasting G-meters would be a tough sell. As an cheaper alternative, could helmets incorporate shock sensors like the ones the Mythbusters use?

A final “drawback:” the sport would never be the same. The NFL has long celebrated bone-crushing hits, and fans eat them up. Stringent concussion rules might therefore threaten the league’s popularity. But that risk is worth taking. There are too many football veterans whose minds–and lives–have fallen apart.