Bloody Sunday: 16 (US Troop Casualties) vs. 6 (NFL Player Casualties)

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 I follow football.  High School, College, Professional – all levels, all kinds. It’s a blood sport.  So there was no way I could ignore the blaring RSS feed headlines on Monday morning announcing that this past weekend’s games will be forever known as “Bloody Sunday.” Sports Illustrated football analyst Peter King reported that “Last Sunday could go down as a seminal moment in NFL history,” because of the injuries sustained on the playing field and the impact on future play, rules and equipment.  The Vice President of Operations for the NFL, Ray Anderson, said that “We’ve got to protect players from themselves” as a result of the violent day.

I also follow the war and the troops.  You know, the ones who allow us to watch sports on weekends without having to worry about some mushroom cloud or Mumbai-style attack here on American soil.  The ones out there protecting that freedom thing, right? 

But, “Bloody Sunday” in the NFL?  Six vicious and violent hits?  Four concussions?  A couple of broken bones?  Oh, my . . . especially compared to how “Bloody” it was in Afghanistan last week.  And compare the changes the NFL is making for head injuries sustained by players, to DOD’s lack of concern for frontline troops.

Since January 2010, on average, 15 troops have been wounded in Afghanistan every single day.  Every. Single. Day. Period.  Simply put, that’s a lot of bloody days.  This past Sunday, there were 15 wounded troopers, and sadly, one killed in action; that equals 16 casualties.  Bloody indeed!  But maybe last Sunday in Afghanistan was simply a bad day, so for some perspective, let’s add up all the casualties from last week.  On average, there were over 100 troopers wounded in action, and 18 US service members paid the ultimate sacrifice and were killed in action.  15 deaths resulted from IED strikes, and 3 deaths resulted from hostile fire.  Of the 15 deaths resulting from IED strikes, 4 were killed in one vehicle, 3 were killed in another, and 2 were sharing another vehicle when they were killed by IED’s.[1]  Statistics that detail the type and extent of the more than 100 wounds suffered are not available (or accurate).  However, we can pretty safely assume that the troopers that survived IED blasts in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles suffered some type of mild-to-severe brain injury—or at the least were concussed—and  that these injuries clearly outpaced those suffered by football players last week. 

I’m comparing head trauma in football and combat, because everyone involved is wearing a helmet.  And if on a given Sunday, the spike in head trauma injuries prompts immediate change in policy and a new commitment to equipment upgrades by the NFL—but not the Department of Defense—then it seems to me that we should all take notice.

So what actions did the NFL take? The concern from head injuries and concussions forced the NFL to impose huge fines on three players this Tuesday for dangerous and flagrant hits and warned the league that violent conduct will be cause for suspension.  It only took the NFL 48-flipping-hours!  And I guarantee that helmets, padding, chinstraps, buckles, screws and straps for every single NFL football helmet is being inspected by equipment maintenance personnel and will be carefully repaired, replaced or some new whiz-bang safety component will be added.  I also guarantee that any and all big-contract players who suffered the slightest head injury have received top-shelf medical care and will most likely be forced to sit out a game or two to protect their team’s “investment.”

So what was the response from the Pentagon after last week’s bloody fray in Afghanistan?  Not a peep except to update the casualty data base and keep issuing sub-standard Advanced Combat Helmets to troops.   From what the troops report to SFTT, some troops obviously get Medevac’ed out of theater due to the severity of their injuries; but some don’t.  And for those who weren’t, maybe the mission profile will allow them to take a one-day or two-day respite from being outside the wire.  But probably not, in line with the old adage, “Every man strengthen the north wall.”  Most ludicrous is the appalling fact that no comparison can be made between frontline troops and NFL players regarding the quality of available medical care, the amount of investment in science and technology to improve the equipment and the commitment to provide long term treatment for traumatic brain injuries.  Must be nice to play in the NFL, and that is the bloody truth!

[1] Department of Defense and data.