Super Bowl Discussion: How NFL safety concerns could contribute to MLS growth

Calen Carr always keeps his noggin safe with his helmet. - Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

The health outlook for soccer players post-career is pretty sunny when you compare it to that of a retired NFL'er. You get to remember who you are, who your family members are, and you can walk with relatively little pain. With the NFL's growing concerns over safety, the MLS has a chance to step into the spotlight as a premier sports league in the U.S.

It may be Super Bowl Sunday and millions will tune into the game later this afternoon, but there is another topic concerning the NFL that's worth debating. The National Football League has taken a hit due to concerns over player safety in recent months. That hit reached its high point, or low point depending on how you look at it, this week thanks to a one-two punch delivered by Ravens DB Bernard Pollard and President Barack Obama.

Pollard told Clark Judge that he doesn't expect the NFL to exist in thirty years, explaining that the new rules making the game safer will drive the fans away. President Obama, when asked if he had a son would he allow him to play football, answered he would "have to think long and hard" before making such a decision because of the violent nature of the game. It's a sentiment many parents across the country are beginning to share.

"Thirty years from now, I don't think it (NFL) will be in existence. I could be wrong. It's just my opinion, but I think with the direction things are going there's going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it." - Ravens DB Bernard Pollard

So what the hell does this have to do with soccer you ask?

Well with no fans and no parents willing to let their kids play football what safe alternative could little Johnny's Mom and Dad find for him? Why soccer of course!

While no sport is completely safe, soccer offers a safer alternative to football while still offering a chance to get a college scholarship and play professionally. Or you could completely forgo school and head straight to the big leagues, something the NFL prohibits. But according to Pollard in thirty years we won't have the NFL so American soccer fans may finally get one of the major things they claim they aren't: the best athletes the country has to offer.

But back to the issue of safety.

While statistics are hard to find that pinpoint the exact number of injuries that occur in each sport, it's even harder to determine a number if you take into account injuries players fail to report. Injuries in soccer are different in nature from what you typically see in American football.

While both sports have bad tackles that lead to immediate injuries such as torn knee ligaments, soccer tends to lack the long term damage from repetitive hits sustained during each down in football. So far soccer players aren't coming forward with suspected cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease that can only be diagnosed after death. While concussions do occur in soccer they often are the result of aerial battles gone wrong or unexpected contact with the ground. They do not occur at the rate they do in football.

Safety measures are available for those playing soccer such as concussion helmets like Calen Carr's. Of course you have to be careful or you end up with helmet tan lines.

As concussion concerns have grown so have the safety options as some companies are now producing a headband style 'helmet' complete with 'ponytail ports' for those with long flowing locks. There have been talks of mandating the helmets at a young age so players become comfortable with them at the youth level.

But brain injuries aren't the only ones that occur. Joint damage, often manifesting as osteoarthritis, presents itself later in life. While the lower joints of a soccer player may take a hit in this department, compared to the average person, the entire skeletal structure of retired football players is often wrecked. Ever shaken hands with a retired football player? Gnarly.

Shin guards help to reduce leg injuries that may come at the feet of a bad tackle. Going in 'cleats up' may be against the rule but it happens - just ask former Dynamo midfielder Stuart Holden. Broken legs happen in football; if you aren't squeamish just look up video of Joe Theismann's broken leg. Broken legs can happen in soccer too - again, just ask Stuart Holden.

But soccer is a contact sport and injuries are going to happen no matter what you do.

Major League Soccer has the opportunity to push itself as a safer alternative to football. While current salaries are a bit lopsided, if the NFL were to become extinct, the money would find somewhere to flow and why not MLS. Now is the time for Don Garber to step up and say 'Come play soccer, it's safer.' Push youth involvement so that there is a greater athlete pool for teams to draw from and increase the need for more teams while developing an even greater fan base.

Soccer lacks the long term damage that football does so really why wouldn't you want your kid to play soccer?

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