It’s more than football
QBs are particularly vulnerable and should be protected more effectively. I believe that there are numerous effective approaches that could be taken if the NFL had any real incentive to do so. Since Goodell and his minions are in the thrall of ESPN and the networks, where the almighty dollar is the only god worshiped, the outcries will likely go unrequited.
Greater use of replay would be an easy mechanism. They already review any touchdown automatically. Obviously there’s someone doing that in the booth somewhere. They can see, just as millions of viewers can see, when a head shot is given and received, when a spearing occurs, or when the QB is slammed to the ground after the pass is thrown. It doesn’t take a brain dead individual to make the call, so experienced booth officials should be more than capable. Yes, they could add another field official or allow all officials to make the QB call, or reposition the officials to do a better job. Frankly, the amount of effort they give to offensive holding calls is laughable since holding occurs on every single play both by the offense and the defense. Perhaps only the most egregious should be called allowing them more time for the ‘player-safety-first’ calls to be made. Further, the penalties need to be revisited. Any holding call, offensive or defensive, just means you got caught and the others did not. Holding on both sides of the ball could be called on every single play. Unlimited yards for pass interference…you could have the ball of your own 1 yard line, get interfered with on the other 1 yard line and get a 98 yard penalty…unlikely but possible. Where is the equity? As such, fixing the personal foul penalties and providing better guidance to officials and players as to what would constitute same only makes sense.
How about this idea: if the defense commits a personal foul on the QB, the penalty is that they get the ball on the 1 yard line. Essentially a TD or FG is the penalty. Think that might stop shots on the QB?
The receivers are also extremely vulnerable. We’ve seen that continuously. I’m old enough to have watched Jack Tatum cripple Daryl Stingley, as well as mangle numerous other receivers during the course of his career. That was the standard then. Clobbering the offensive player was, and to large measure, still is the name of the game. Think of the great defensive players….too many to name….all made their names hammering their opponents dizzy. They’ve added protections for the defenseless offensive player, but that is often honored in the breach during the game, even if suspensions occur after the fact.
There is a larger problem here that is likely not solvable as the game of football is played today. The Frontline piece on CTEs and the subsequent Will Smith movie “Concussion” have at least opened our eyes to the long-term effects of football. However, we and the NFL have tended to focus on the concussion aspect of it. I believe that Bennett Omalu’s point (as well as the evidence from Boston University researchers…names fail me) is that multiple repeated blows to the head, whether causing a concussion or not, are the culprits in CTE/Tao development. I watched football this weekend like every other fan and saw numerous cases where someone tackled had their heads slam into the ground. Football is not the only activity which should be of concern. Hockey, Rugby, Soccer (the other football) headers, Lacrosse, boxing/UFC (of course), diving…what am I leaving out? We know that punch drunk was an appellation that could be applied more broadly.
So what is the answer? Certainly youth sports have to be carefully considered. If the human brain does not fully mature until one’s mid-twenties, then we’ve got a lot of work to do to protect our children. When CTE has been found in young athletes prior to the age of 20, this is not something that we should simply say ‘oh well, bad luck’. Perhaps we have to begin to redefine how some sports are played. Clearly we should do so where children are involved. Should we do so with adult sports? I don’t know the answer to that one, but the more we shed light on the subject, the more information individuals have to make their own decisions. We’ve seen a record number of early retirees in football this year, largely attributed to the new knowledge we have.
The NFL money truck will roll on and dissemblers and spin doctors like Goodell will continue to behave like the tobacco and petro-chemical industries. Denial is clearly more than a river in Egypt and we’re all somewhat guilty, me included. I watch eagerly, but with a lot more guilt and trepidation than ever before. The big hits are no longer a fan cheer, but rather a painful tingling in my legs and upset in my stomach.