NFL

Getting Tackled By an NFL Player Feels Like Getting Hit By a Car

Everyone understands that getting tackled by an NFL player hurts, but how much force goes into that collision? Researchers did the math on the pain of getting jacked up, and they found a surprising comparison point. So which player brings the most heat on the field?

How much violence is too much for the NFL?

Football’s problem isn’t that it’s inherently violent. The concern involves the force of the violence. One of the most pervasive talking points in modern football is about the sport’s damage to the human body and whether the NFL has done enough to mitigate the risk for players. 

NFL franchises misdiagnosed and undersold concussions for years before medical science made it clear that these hits have debilitating effects on a player’s life. The early retirements of star players show that this issue is an evergreen one for the NFL.

After taking a substantial PR hit and being threatened by lawsuits, the NFL made some precautions. The league began devaluing kickoff returns and fining players who went headhunting.

Some reports have also surfaced about the overuse of painkillers to get players through the season. For these reasons, the idea of a 17th game is contentious during CBA negotiations. It may help explain why the owners are willing to let players use marijuana; the downsides are far less punitive when compared to opiates.

Yet, the physicality is one of the main reasons why football is such a viscerally exciting game for millions of viewers.  You can tell just by watching that playing in the NFL involves a lot of pain. But how damaging is it exactly?

What does getting tackled by an NFL player feel like?

Researchers and physicians attempted to find the exact amount of force that goes into a typical NFL hit. The laws of physics state that such force is defined by three factors: weight, speed and how quickly the players stop. Players have gotten stronger, bigger and more athletic over the years, making their collisions more powerful than they were a few decades ago.

The punishing nature of an NFL hit is not a new invention. A helmet hit from 1930s Hall of Famer Morris “Red” Badgro would lay down quarterbacks with about 4.9 tons of force — twice the impact of a 30 mile-per-hour car crash while wearing a seat belt.

Unsurprisingly, the punishment is even worse with real heavyweights. Former Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata would inflict 8.4 tons of force with a helmet hit. A car crash without a seat belt uses 12 tons of force. It’s incredible that a human can even get close to vehicles on this scale. 

Stats like this make it seem like no one should ever get up after getting sacked, but humans can take a shot if the hit is distributed throughout the body. (If the hit is more targeted, then the impact can leave the victim feeling g-forces five times bigger than a jet pilot pulling tight turns.) Equipment advancements have also helped lessen the effects of a collision.

Who are the hardest hitters in the league?

Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner tackles Saints running back Alvin Kamara
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner tackles Saints running back Alvin Kamara | Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The context has changed greatly, but few things can get fans out of their seats quite like a big hit. Looking at the list of tackle leaders from last season, only one player in the top 10 was not a linebacker. This makes sense.

This position has to deal with skill players running through the middle. Defenders don’t have the out-of-bounds line to help them and must sell out to make plays. Bobby Wagner is No. 1 on the list, and he’s been one of the stronger defensive players in the NFL for a while now. When the Seahawks had him, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas, opposing players were regularly bruised.

But being a big hitter is not enough to be an NFL star anymore. A lot has changed in the last 10 years, but one fact remains true: Getting hit by a big, strong man hurts a lot.

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