There is much debate about the violence/ hitting in football and the rule changes that need to be made to protect the safety of the players from concussions and other injuries. The disagreement comes in the amount or kind of changes. How much do we water down the game with rules to protect the players, at the expense of the game we all know and bet on? I mean love.
Until now the approach has been to primarily make rule changes such as: making helmet to helmet contact illegal, changing the kickoff yard line, penalizing for hitting a defenseless receiver, and so on. Those are all fine.
There has been speculation of possibly eliminating the kickoff altogether. Purists, and people concerned about the integrity of the game or it’s popularity, worry that the future of football is in jeopardy if we make it too soft. Players know the risks and we should leave it be, or so they say.
The other side laments that the more we learn about concussions and their present and long-term consequences, such as the recent suicide of Junior Seau, the fewer parents will allow their kids to play football in the future. Further, there will be more people in the general public that are turned off by the sport.
Just this week President Obama weighed in further igniting the partisans. Arguing about President Obama’s innocent, and recent comments about the safety of football, it’s future, and whether or not he would let a son, if he had one, play, misses the point.
The solution doesn’t rest with rule changes. That will make the game a little safer, but is largely a band-aid to protect the league from liability. It is said that the players keep getting bigger, stronger and faster, and that increases the likelihood of injury. We can’t do much about bigger and stronger, but speed and protection are areas where we can.
For example, before implementing more hitting rule changes, the NFL can slow the game down by banning hard, slick artificial turf. There should be a minimum safety standard to all surfaces, grass or artificial. Field design should consider three factors, speed, how hard it is and how fast it drains water. This standard should be a surface that slows the game down, or at worst simulates natural grass. If it doesn’t exist now, research it and make it so. Supposedly, one reason we don’t like steroids is because they create artificial numbers, well artificial turf creates artificial speed. A softer surface also means less damage from impact and less wear and tear on knees and ankles, etc.
Another way to naturally slow the game down is to require thicker and more protective padding. This could serve two purposes: one, slowing the speed of the game by weight of equipment or limiting flexibility as a result of equipment. And two, giving better protection to a player when hit.
I’m not sure this one will affect speed, but require players to wear flak jackets. Quarterbacks often wear these to protect bruised ribs. Here is an idea, wear them before you suffer a rib injury and you might not get the injury in the first place.
Better and safer helmets. Baseball has them. A vast majority of MLB players don’t wear them because they are fashionably undesirable. If they don’t exist for football, the NFL should invest heavily in improving the technology and safety of helmets and fashion be damned, require players to wear them.
Better equipment and a slower field of play, may mean less rule changes to the actual game and healthier players. These are areas that deserve as much research and attention as possible because they could not only keep players safer during their career but long after as well. And then maybe the president will be more comfortable letting his hypothetical son play football.
###### Update 2/1/13 …. Yesterday, it was widely reported that the Baltimore Ravens switched practice fields because the turf at Tulane University was too hard. Click here. Ravens star Ray Lewis commented that it wasn’t good for the legs especially this time of year. I support making turf player friendly all season long!