Wednesday, October 20th, 2010...10:36 pm

The NFL Takes A Devastating Blow

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The NFL announced that it will strictly enforce its rules against dangerous and flagrant hits by penalizing players with substantial fines or even suspensions. This has everyone kibitzing (check out the ESPN crew go at it and Schlereth go bonkers) and for good reason. The message that the NFL is suddenly sending goes against the very nature of their product. It seems arbitrary that a few big hits during week 6 of the 2010 NFL season are causing the league to change its mantra. Players are confused and unhappy. James Harrison is so distraught that he is contemplating retirement. Fans aren’t sure of what to make of all this but are worried how the rulebook might effect their favorite players or team. The whole thing is pretty dizzying.

Here is how Littyhoops sees it.

The NFL waited way too long on this issue. So they panicked. The darkest secret in professional sports is on the verge of being exposed. The sport of Football, as we know and love it today, is a death wish to the players who put their lives on the line each week they take the field.

The NFL realizes that insurmountable scientific evidence on the severity of concussions in football is now too obvious to ignore. They were trying to slow play this issue because they didn’t want to mess with the best and most popular product in sports. Heck, just last week they were trying to expand the season two additional weeks. But now they are taking a pr page from how Baseball dealt with steroids by taking a very public and aggressive stance against violent play. By doing this the league claims they value their players safety and well-being first and foremost.

This is blatent hypocricy.

The unsportsmanlike conduct here is that the NFL has built its brand on hard hits, fast-paced action, and awesome displays of power, strength and athleticism. It’s frightening and therefore exciting. It is must see TV. I often mention to people that I can imagine that a football player will one day be decapitated on the field (not sure why I think about things like this but I do). The force of a hit will be so hard that his head will pop right off.

Players have been trained to be devastating. The damage they inflict directly correlates to the accolades they receive and the dollars they earn. Duh! James Harrison just earned a $20MM dollar bonus. Sending the message that the style in which players have been trained is no longer appreciated but is now illegal is like accusing your pet cat Tom of murder for catching a mouse named Jerry.

The NFL realizes that medical advances and research studies will pack more punch than a Ronnie Lott open field helmet-to-helmet hit. The stats and studies are already out there. Watch this somewhat innocent ESPN Sports Science piece on concussions. Evidence will show that the effects of multiple concussions are far worse than what was previously understood. Add in the fact that concussions have been woefully under-diagnosed and we have ourselves a scandal. Former NFL players turn into vegtables at a young age. I would not be surprised if 5-10 players each game suffers a concussion. After all, there are over 100,000 concussions each year from football. Only a small percentage of these brain injuries are actually reported, diagnosed and treated. My neurosurgeon (yeah – it sucks to say you have a neurosurgeon) is convinced that the sport of football will not exist in its current form in the next generation as more information is revealed about the effects of concussions.

The game of football is about to experience a major transformation away from violence and towards speed, skill and more open space. It happened in Hockey. It is something that NASCAR is always managing (despite technology, cars are getting slower). This will be further accelerated by the NFL as it realizes that it can no longer conveniently ignore the damage, scrutiny and liability of the game that it sanctions. This isn’t a safety decision. It’s a business decision.

In the long run this will be a necessary evolution of a great sport. But in the now, it’s an awkward transition made at an awkward time. The NFL fumbled and everybody knows it. Shouldn’t they have figured this out in the off-season when the rules, messaging, pr, training and player communication could all be aligned with a clear plan on how the sport will move forward? I’m curious why the league panicked. Sure the league will claim they were as much in the dark as the very players that suffer from serious mental injuries. They will do everything and anything to “protect the shield” and the sanctity of the league. They need to if they want to remain the top pro sports league in the world.

This is going to get Roger Clemens ugly on a few different levels. Finger pointing, congressional hearings and more. Sound familiar? Archduke Franz Ferdinand hasn’t even been pancaked yet but the fireworks have already begun…

  • Jeremy Goldberg

    You make a lot of great points, and I agree with you that (1) the NFL overreacted; and (2) the NFL will inevitably have to adjust its rules because the speed and size of players today have outpaced the equipment. That said, I think the NFL had to do something–when you have 6 Philadelphia players out because of concussions alone, and that many questionable hits in one weekend, they couldn’t have done nothing. There’s a middle ground–perhaps announcing fines, perhaps announcing a broader review, etc. I think the answer may be in widening the field, ala the CFL.

  • Johnsaavn

    This is simple. Let’s just have teams fight to the death, like the armies of antiquity, every Sunday.

    First, schedule would wrap up in just 6 weeks, as 32 teams become 16, 8, 4, 2 then one.

    Second, no dynasties – and lots of new players and intrigue annually.

    Third, no pension headaches – pun intended – because everyone dies, except those who survive to become champions.

    Fourth, if some idiot like Brandon Jacobs throws his helmet aat the fans (oh, right — it slipped, my bad), then fans should be entitles to beat him to death with said headgear. Engage the fans, and the fans are in play.

    Finally, my plan is awesome, because there is no way Tom Brady makes it out alive. Meaning Gisele becomes available again.

    Who is with me????

  • Johnsaavn

    Oops. Schedule would wrap in five weeks. 15 yards for lousy math.

    Maybe I have a concussion

  • Litty

    Hey Johnny – You really put the “hits” in Desi with that reply!!!

  • dherman76

    Insurance cost anyone?