During a mostly fun-filled charity gathering Friday in San Francisco, five Super Bowl quarterbacks turned serious on the matter of concussions.
Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jim Plunkett, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady took turns addressing the mounting concern over player safety and the long-term effects of head injuries.
Bob Costas, who moderated the panel discussion, noted that players such as Kurt Warner, Terry Bradshaw and Bart Scott have all said that they would think twice about letting their own kids play football.
With that as the backdrop, Costas posed this question:
"What can be done to make the game reasonably safe without changing its basic nature and without altering the sport that is clearly America's most popular?"
Aaron Rodgers: "It's a difficult topic. But I know the risks I'm taking, stepping onto the field. I've had a couple of head injuries. , I talked to Steve about the second one because I know he dealt with similar things.
"It does start to bring your own mortality to the forefront in your mind, thinking about what your post-career will look like. That being said, there's not a whole lot more we can do. The helmet I started my career with in 2005 is no longer allowed because of the safety requirements on those helmets is so high now. I feel confident the helmet I'm wearing has kept me from a couple concussions in the last year, especially one hit in particular I took in the Giants playoff game.
"It's a difficult topic because I think our league needs to continue to realize the impact we can have on setting the standard for the kids who are wanting to play. Having said that, it's a collision sport, and you have to realize that going in. Guys are bigger, stronger and faster every year. But there's not much more you can do to make it safe.
"It's just in this era, as opposed to when the three of you (Montana, Young, Plunkett) played, every injury is highlighted more. Every little ding to the head is labeled as a concussion.
"The protocol for concussions cannot be any more difficult to get back on the field. And I don't know if you've had this, Tom, but it is incredible the process and the tests you have to go through to get back on the field. So something is being done. It's unfortunate that we've had to go through some years of learning what those steps look like, but I don't think there's a whole lot more that can be done."
Jim Plunkett: "I don't know what can be done without changing the very nature of the game, the violence of the game, the way people hit one another. They're probably doing a lot better job now of stopping the hits to the head. They're not letting people fly through the air. They're working extremely hard at this.
"In the meantime, the effects of concussion are coming to light. Especially my generation. I have so many friends or people I've played against just going through a hell of a time at this stage of their lives. I know something's got to be done. Exactly what it is, I'm not sure.
Steve Young: "The things they're trying to legislate out of the game right now is the 'launching.'" And I understand that.
I Googled Dick Butkus. People always say, 'Oh, they're going to change football if they legislate some of these big hits. Dick Butkus was a tough guy. He tackled with his arms. So it takes away those hits that are most difficult to watch and that injure the head so much. They're trying to make sure that those launching hits are out of the game.
"The game is dangerous to the body. Well-coached and well-protected, I think it's a great game. And truth is, if my boys wanted to play and I thought they were well-coached and well-protected, then I think there are things that football teaches that are not able to be learned in some places. It's one of the great team games in the history of team games.
"So I'd love to find a way to whittle through this and find a way so it's safe enough for people long term to play it and be safe. With Aaron's point about how they're trying to handle the protocol on head injuries, maybe on the other side of this in 10 or 15 years, we've found a game that protects players and still keep it intact. That's the challenge."
Joe Montana: "It's one of those cases where it's a Catch-22. They're trying to make the equipment better.
"I have my shoulder pads hanging in our weight room. And my boys see them and say, 'Did you play in those?' They weren't very big. The problem is, the better the equipment gets, the more protected everybody feels and the more violent the game can become because now they feel they can do more -- the collisions can be higher. And so I don't know how you would approach this, really.
"I was talking to one of the the old, old guys and he says, 'Oh, I got the perfect thing: Take the facemasks off. See how many people stick their faces in there then.' That's a pretty good point. It makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways. It takes some of that protection away. Do you want to go that way? It's almost impossible to go backward.
"I talked with the Target-Chip Ganassi team that just won the Indy. ... One of the factors they found with head injuries is that a football helmet weighs between 5 and 7 pounds. .. They designed a helmet that weighs 2 pounds. And that difference between the three or four pounds is supposed to reduce those head injuries by a lot. They're going through the process.
"But I think it's really difficult. He were are trying to protect, protect, protect (but) the more you stay protected, the more aggressive you can get."
Tom Brady: The players now are just so big and so fast. We got a first-round tackle last year who is 345 pounds with 8 percent body fat and he runs a 4.8. He's fast, big and he just brings a lot of force.
"The accountability for myself is with myself. I'm making sure I'm doing what I need to do to protect myself and, obviously, my family and I try to educate some teammates on things that are working." Contact Daniel Brown at email@example.com