Football, Violent? Say It Ain’t So!

John Richardson


Saying the NFL promotes physical health is like saying the military promotes peace – there’s an essential contradiction of terms. Nevertheless, the NFL is attempting to make football a safer, softer sport with legislation that will outlaw what it ambiguously terms “devastating hits.” Helmet-to-helmet hits have long been fineable offenses, but last month the NFL expanded the rule to include any hit that seems shocking, and will suspend any player who commits them. The bottom line, the NFL wants its players to be less ferocious.
Anyone who watched the onslaught of concussions that occurred during the Oct. 17 games will understand why the heads of the NFL got so shaken up: Brandon Meriweather sidelined Todd Heap with a concussion. A hit from Dunta Robinson on DeSean Jackson sidelined both players with concussions. James Harrison stated that he “tries to hurt people” after a game in which he sidelined both Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi with concussions only minutes apart. The hits were so visually shocking that the “no devastating hits” rule was instated the next day.
When asked why, the NFL Football Operations Executive Ray Anderson said, “We’ve got to get the message to players that these devastating hits and head shots will be met with a very necessary higher standard of accountability.”
The new rule is an attempt to legislate concussions out of the NFL – according to sources, this NFL season has already had 40 players sidelined by on-field concussions, that’s an average of four per week – but let’s be honest, this rule won’t be put into standard practice. Coaches will continue to draft the biggest and hardest-hitting players that money can buy, and players will continue to build-up their physical power, speed and agility and use it to increase their salary. Any time you dangle money and fame in front of people they’ll run at it full tilt.
And more common sense: those teams that comply more often with the new rule, and tackle with less force, will inevitably end up losing more games – within a league of superhuman athletes, hesitation cost touchdowns.
Underneath it all, NFL executives instated this rule to protect their interests: viewers and sponsors. Since football is the most watched spectacle on television (according to Nielson ratings, last year’s NFC and AFC championship games averaged 52.9 million viewers, and Super Bowl XLIV was the most watched TV program in history), and it’s aired during family-friendly primetime hours, corporate sponsors won’t invest money into a form of entertainment that causes its viewers to cringe. It’s a public relations no-no.
These sidelining injuries are not the norm. Creating such a game-changing rule based on a few individual tackles that occur within the context of thousands upon thousands of tackles every Sunday is a ridiculous move from seemingly naïve executives who, in most cases, have never played the game themselves.
Interestingly, the Sunday after the new rule went into effect, three more concussions occurred, and they were all the result of legal hits. The most notable was Arizona Cardinals’ rookie quarterback Max Hall, who received a hit from Seattle Seahawks’ defensive end Chris Clemons. Though the tackle was deemed legal, it still caused a concussion. So how effective is a rule based on visual shock and awe in deterring concussions when even the average hit can cause concussions as well?
Unless you turn the NFL into two-hand touch, concussions are inevitable. There are too many factors, too many moving variables and too many bodies in motion (the average lineman weighs 290 to 320 pounds) to prevent concussions from occurring. Yes, these “brain bruises” are regrettable, but they’re not preventable in a sport based on collisions.
Besides, nobody hears one player complaining about getting hit too hard. For as much money as an NFL player pulls in, the danger they face is meager in comparison to a police officer, construction worker, or soldier who gets paid a fraction of the salary. And like all those jobs there is what the law calls “assumption of risk,” players understand injury as a part of the game – a game that happens to be their job.
Football is athletic war and casualties are inevitable. If you don’t like it, go watch soccer.

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