New York Giants owner John Mara, a member of the NFL’s Competition Committee says he can envision a time when the NFL eliminates kickoffs all together from the game.
“We had a lot of discussions about whether we should eliminate it and if we did, what we could do in its place,” Mara told Giants.com. “There’s no consensus on it right now, but I could see the day in the future where that play could be taken out of the game. You see it evolving toward that.”
While I applaud the competition committee for trying to make the game safer, this is absurd. The game as it stands right now is vastly different from the game I grew up watching. At first some of the rule changes started to help open up offenses. What was considered pass interference yesterday and what little is allowed today are two entirely different things. One of the reasons I laugh at anybody daring to compare any wide receiver in today’s game to the great Jerry Rice (aside from his staggering records they will never catch) is that Jerry did it when corners were allowed to actually cover receivers.
And then slowly some rules to protect the players came around. Ruling the chop block illegal, blocks in the back, protecting kickers and quarterbacks from extremely late hits were necessary measures. Since Roger Goddell took over as NFL commissioner the game has gone in the wrong direction.
Protecting QBs is one thing, what the league has done now is virtually made them untouchable. Watching college spring game scrimmages with the QBs in dark, no touch jerseys reminded me of the NFL more than anything else. Penalizing unnecessary roughness and true late hits is a good thing. Making it illegal for a player to hit a QB merely seconds after he’s thrown the ball when said defenders body is already in full momentum towards the QB is downright bad for the game.
The NFL has also taken away the realistic ability to block a field goal without there being a bad snap. If the holder or kicker are even touched, flags are thrown. Moving kickoffs up to the 35 yard line didn’t do the game any good. It made it more boring, most of the time. Players still took the ball out of the end zone whenever they could. Resulting in worse field position for offenses in many cases. Mara points to less concussions this past season after the rule change but admits the following.
“The problem is that the concussions come from everywhere — from the wedge, from the crossing blocks where a guy goes from one side of the field to another, from a full speed collision between a return guy and a tackler. So there’s no one thing that you can do. It’s something that we’ll continue to watch as closely as possible.”
What Mara is saying there about concussions is absolutely true for every type of injury. They can come from everywhere and anywhere at any time in the game. Players have torn their ACLs running down the field untouched. Professional sports all have injury risk. Football is supposed to be the most dangerous of them all.
The problem is the NFL acted too late on many different things. First it’s obvious they handled concussions poorly in the early days of the league. Many former players brains have been examined and proven significant damage due to the banging they took during their days in the NFL. Then the league waited too long to change some of the rules I talked about above.
Take all that into consideration and what you’ve got is a lawsuit ticking time bomb. IF a lawsuit were to be successful in establishing that the NFL is liable for injury caused to its players because it has facilitated a violent game without doing enough to protect the participants, the game as we know will be destroyed.
Once the precedent is set that you are facilitating a dangerous activity and responsible and required to take all measures to protect participants, it is nearly impossible to take all necessary measures to protect the players without changing the game so much that we wouldn’t even be able to recognize it from what it is today (let alone 10-20 years ago).
The risk of the league getting sued at any time is only worse when you look at the labor situation. You might have heard in the news that both sides “gave up” a little for the retired players in all the eras. Technically that was correct, but still, the increase many of these men will see is rather minimal and sadly many remain in a state of poverty. With no incentive not to sue the league, in my eyes, all we’re waiting for is the right attorney to gather the right group of former players to launch an attack against the league.
Once this happens, because in my eyes, it’s inevitable. There would be only two hopes for the league to survive as we know it. One, a big win in court for the NFL. The other, an out of court settlement or some sort of judgement that would allow the league to institute some sort of agreement with the players union to have signed by each player recognizing the dangers of playing NFL football and waiving any future rights to damages.
Only this isn’t like jumping out of a plane. In that case, your paying the instructor to take you up in a plane and jump out with you. You understand the reasonable risk and cannot sue unless the company is negligent in some way. In this case, the NFL is actually paying the players to perform said dangerous activity.
A good lawyer could argue that the paychecks were at such a scale their clients couldn’t reasonably expect to earn that type of income anywhere else. Thus any reasonable person would take on the risk. What the NFL is doing now is back peddling because they know the doomsday scenario I’ve laid out here is not only true, but likely. The league wants to demonstrate that they have gone well beyond making the game safe for their players and it is in fact, their #1 priority. But like I said earlier, too little, too late for some players sitting around with what a lawyer would point to as unnecessary injuries. Here’s hoping the NFL learned something from OJ about assembling a defense team.
Before you go, take a look at the epicness we’d be missing without kick returns in the NFL
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