By Austin G Johns CCS CES
Return to Sport Program
On December 4, 2017, Ryan Shazier, linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers football team suffered a devastating injury while tackling Josh Malone from the Cincinnati Bengals. Much speculation has flown around since – both in the football world and in strength and conditioning – wondering what measures could have been put in place to avoid such an injury in professional athletics.
Arguments have been made that this was a "clean hit", meaning it did not go against the rules of football and was therefore executed properly.
This tackle does, however, violate the rules of physics. Mr. Shazier made a poorly executed tackle and no amount of strength training, conditioning, or other preparation could have change the outcome better than proper tackling technique.
While I do not claim to be a football expert, I am an expert in properly executed athletic mechanics and this tackle is an example of what not to do.
The football experts agree:
Because sport occurs at such high speeds, it can be difficult to discern the mechanism of injury to Mr. Shazier even on a slow motion replay.
However, if you truly examine the moment of impact for this incident, it is clear that this was a spear tackle:
Mr. Shazier impacts his opponent head first with his head down. The orange lines indicate postural vertices for the neck and spine at impact.
In addition, Mr. Shazier's body is twisted at the spine. In the image above, the purple and blue lines represent his hip and shoulder placement at impact. You can see that they are not parallel – which is the ideal position for a well-executed tackle. The orange lines show the angle of incidence on the spine at impact.
Most football coaches at all levels understand the risk of a spear tackle. This injury offers a prime example as to why this is so.
If I were to teach young athletes how to tackle properly, I'd teach rugby methods over and over until the athlete knows no other method:
Coaching good technique is extremely important in all sports at all levels. As Mr. Shazier demonstrated and to his detriment, the repercussions for poor technique can be devastating.
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