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Concussions Become Part of the Game Plan

The Giants uncover part of a game plan usually kept hidden

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Jan 15, 2014  |  Updated 5:24 PM EDT
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Head injuries come back into the spotlight thanks to Kyle Williams and the Giants.

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The awareness of the impact and seriousness of concussions has been on the rise in the NFL in recent years and it seems the players are taking notice.

Just not in the way that the league might prefer.

In comments after their 23-20 win over the 49ers on Sunday, several members of the Giants were quite open about the fact that they planned to target 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams for hard hits in light of the fact that he's suffered several concussions over the course of his career.

There's nothing particularly surprising about this -- if they said they wanted to make a player with a history of knee problems uncomfortable, it wouldn't bat an eye -- but there was a certain glee that made the whole thing unsavory.

Jacquian Williams - "The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, was to take him outta the game."

Devin Thomas - "He's had a lot of concussions. We were just like, 'We gotta put a hit on that guy.' . . . [Tyler] Sash did a great job hitting him early and he looked kind of dazed when he got up.  I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up."

Did it make a difference? Who knows, although the first fumble, when Williams strangely approached the ball but made no effort to field it or recover it after it hit his knee, certainly could have been caused by a player struggling after getting his bell rung earlier in the contest.

With everything else associated with the end of the game, the comments flew under the radar until Benjamin Wallace-Wells of NYMag.com spotlighted them on Monday. To Wallace-Wells it was "startling to realize that concussions aren't just an injury but a strategic vulnerability."

It is startling to see it spelled out in tones as plain as the ones the Giants used to talk about their strategy of dealing with Kyle Williams on Sunday afternoon, but, as pointed out above, it isn't particularly surprising.

Teams always look for weak spots to exploit and there was no point in the game that the Giants did anything that even approached the borderline of legality in regard to hitting Williams in the head.

That's a pretty important point. Football is a violent game and there's really not much about whatever strategy the Giants devised that deviates from the standard fare of hitting harder and finishing tackles that you hear about every week of the football season.

None of that makes the comments by the Giants players any less cold-hearted when you think about everything we know about the potential for lifelong effects that can be caused by concussions. 

NFL players made a big show of talking about their safety as an issue during the lockout, something that rings pretty hollow when you hear them talking about causing a concussion (or when members of the 49ers boasted before the Giants game about injuring six running backs that played against them this season) as part of the strategy to win a game.

All of the focus about transparency and honesty when it comes to concussions was supposed to make football a safer game for those who play it for our enjoyment. Instead, it has just turned those that suffer them into targets for the opposition. 

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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