In the fourth quarter of Nebraska’s 31-17 win over Missouri on Saturday, the big screen at Lincoln's Memorial Stadium started a montage of big hits by the Nebraska defense set to music. It's a concept that almost every football team employs at home: Who doesn’t love jarring tackles set to “Boom"?
Maybe Missouri, for starters, as well as neurologists. Just before the montage played, Cornhusker safety Courtney Osborne blitzed unblocked off the edge to sack Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who didn’t see or feel the pressure until Osborne had already launched for the sack.
Gabbert ducked a bit as the hit was coming, and Osborne’s helmet made direct contact with Gabbert’s. And to Osborne's credit, he also wrapped up for the tackle while going for the money shot. Gabbert was left woozy on the field, and no penalty was called. But a penalty was called earlier in the game on a similar sack of Gabbert. That hit was in the video compilation as the crowd cheered.
On Monday, Missouri asked the Big 12 to review the hit. Last week, a similar review led the conference to suspend another Husker, Eric Martin, for the Mizzou game in the wake of a helmet-to-helmet hit on Oklahoma State’s Andrew Hudson during a kick return in Nebraska's win in Stillwater.
Concussions are everywhere these days. The NFL has already said it plans to levy suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits after receivers Josh Cribbs, Mohammed Massaquoi and DeSean Jackson were all knocked out on Oct. 17. Concussions were on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week, and if you believe this Real Sports piece, there may be a link between repeated brain trauma and ALS. Plus, concussions could have played a role in Thursday’s death of a high school football player near Kansas City. The American Academy of Neurology sounded another warning on Monday.
Obviously, the University of Nebraska isn’t the only offender – the NFL was selling still pictures of the hit that sidelined Massaquoi for a couple of days after the fact – but football is in the midst of a major identity crisis, and continued glorification of helmet-to-helmet hits like the video montage at Memorial Stadium only further complicate matters. We're still only beginning to understand the severity and impact of concussions, so it's natural that awareness and sensitivity are lagging behind.
And football’s the ultimate tough-guy sport. It's one thing to limp off the field with a torn ACL, or any injury that everyone can plainly see restricts your ability to perform. It's another when you won't go back in because you have a headache or dizziness after "getting your bell rung."
However, with all of the attention devoted to head injuries in the past three weeks – and the fact that Martin had just been suspended days earlier – what the people in the control room did at Memorial Stadium was inexcusable. Yes, Gabbert wasn’t officially diagnosed with a concussion and predictably claimed that he was fine after the game, but he was visibly dazed after both hits. And concussion diagnosis is still relatively in its infancy.
Big-hit compilations don’t have to go anywhere, but it doesn’t take much effort to exclude headshots. They may not be as sexy without players getting speared, but even as we're only beginning to unwrap the onion, it's obvious that brain trauma is a serious matter. As long as headshots are trivialized and monetized while people in power do their best to attempt to appear to care, that seriousness won't be communicated effectively enough to put a stop to them.