Associated Press, Published October 07 2011
NASCAR drivers say other sports can learn from their safety improvementsKANSAS CITY, Kan. — Five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson says other sports should consider some of the safety advances that NASCAR has implemented in recent years.
In the decade since Dale Earnhardt's death at Daytona, many tracks have installed impact-absorbing SAFER barriers along their concrete walls. New helmets and restraint systems been introduced and the car itself has been redesigned to better handle high-speed crashes.
“I remember the HANS device being carried around the garage area years before Earnhardt's crash, and we all looked at them and went, ‘Ah, I've been through a bad wreck, I don't need that,’” Johnson said of the Head and Neck Support device that many believe could have saved Earnhardt's life.
“So I think the leagues need to get more involved,” Johnson said, “and really spearhead and lead technology and safety together and implement it into their regulations.”
Johnson said the NFL might consider some of the helmet technology used by drivers, and the SAFER barriers could be adapted for use in NHL arenas instead of wood or fiberglass boards. That could cut down on the number of hockey players who are injured from legal and illegal hits alike.
“People love the crashes. People love the hits in football,” Johnson said. “But still, you have to keep the athletes safe and protect their lives, their families, and put on a good show as well.”
Former player Brendan Shanahan, who has taken over as the NHL's disciplinarian, has been handing out fines and suspensions at a startling rate this preseason. Shanahan has even taken to announcing the penalties in videos during which he replays the hit and explains why it deserved punishment.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently spoke about concussions at the Congress of Neurological Surgeons in Washington. He said the league and players’ union have committed to spending $100 million over the next 10 years on medical research, most of it brain injury research.
Rules changes, which include moving the location of kickoffs to avoid high-speed impacts, and an emphasis on doctors deciding whether players can return to the field appear to have done little so far to curb the concussion rate. Goodell said earlier this month that a report covering exhibition games showed the number of head injuries was “roughly consistent” with the 2010 preseason.
“It's hard for me to watch an NFL game because those guys hit their heads a lot,” said Carl Edwards, who is tied for the lead in the Chase standings entering Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway.
“Anybody here who has hit their head knows it's not a good feeling,” Edwards said. “If you look at the number of impacts we take, if things are going normally and going well, there are only a few impacts a year, where the NHL and NFL, it seems those guys, every time they tackle someone or stretch out to catch a ball they whack their head on the ground pretty hard.”
Edwards said one thing sports leagues do right is make sure athletes are cleared by medical staff before they're allowed back in the game. The days of “shaking out the cobwebs” are long over.
“NASCAR does a really good job,” he said, “and I know the times that I've hit my head pretty hard, they've done a really good job of monitoring me and keeping track of things.”
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