Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Don't Screw This Up, NFL

When I came up with the idea for this column, I expected to heap a bunch of praise on the NFL for being proactive in cracking down on flagrant helmet-to-helmet hits. But as I started writing, I realized I didn't fully believe it. I'm absolutely in favor of protecting the players but I think this is going to be very difficult to police and probably impossible to eliminate.

The fact of the matter is that the NFL is popular because it's a ridiculously fast paced, violent, high-intensity sport. And it's played by fast, aggressive, intense guys. James Harrison stated quite bluntly that he goes out looking to hurt people. Although he did qualify that by saying that he doesn't look to injure people and he would never want to cost someone playing time. Rodney Harrison said he used to budget $50,000 a year for fines from illegal hits because it allowed him to establish an intimidating reputation. As long as there are guys willing to spend more than I make in a year on fines, there are going to be crazy, dangerous hits – and injuries – in football.

According to the NFL injury reports, there have been 18 concussions through Week 6 of this season. To me, that number is staggering. There were another four this weekend. Five players have missed at least two games because of head injuries. Plus, that doesn't take into account the shots taken by Lions' lineback Zack Follett or Ravens' tight end Todd Heap. On Saturday, there was a kid from Rutgers who was paralyzed. Anquan Boldin had his damn face broken back in 2008. When things start to spiral like that I think the league has to step in and do something. I'm just concerned they're going to be pissing on a forest fire.

Perhaps the most frightening thing about all of this is how little we actually know about the long term effects of head trauma. There is surprisingly little definitive research on the subject but it's fairly obvious that multiple concussions can lead to serious brain disorders later in life. People who sustain multiple concussions are significantly more likely to develop clinical depression, Alzheimer's disease and memory loss. If the league and players union thinks they have issues with injured, retired players now, think about what they could face in 10-15 years.

Ultimately, I don't want the NFL to change the way it calls games. Many of the vicious hits we're hearing about this week weren't penalized in the games on Sunday. And I think the officials got it right. Now, when a players leads with the crown of the helmet, they deserve to be penalized. But if the player leads with their shoulders or face mask and they just end up hitting the other players helmet? That's perfectly legal; and if they start throwing flags on that we're going to end up with glorified flag football.

The other point here is that these guys signed up for this. There's no one forcing them to fly around a football field on Sundays. But they get paid handsomely for it and it's good work if you can get it. Personally, I'm glad I don't have to worry about breaking my face when I go to work, but I wasn't built to play football. But if this new enforcement is going to cost me the pleasure I get from laying around on my couch all Sunday I'm going to be pissed. Just point me to the fire, I guess.


Winks said...

Couldn't agree more, I think the NFL is getting dangerously close to becoming a shell of what it used to be - taking away celebrations, maybe overdoing it a bit on the safety side, stupid possession rules that nobody understands. The NFL is the Roman Empire of sports right now, but I fear it's beginning to water itself down.

Anonymous said...

i might have to start watching the ufl

Chris said...

When the NFL doesn't have a season next year and everyone turns to hockey, I'll have been ahead of the curve.

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