The professor is back. Your insomnia is cured.
Last week we talked about how college football may be outgrowing its demand. Larger stadiums, more bowls, more teams and more and more games on TV are all adding up to lower ratings and less attendance. We were framing this expansion as a kind of bubble that could pose a threat to the game we love and while we argued over whether there was really anything to worry about commenter Robert K. chimed in with something else we should be concerned about. Robert noted “The effect of concussions and severe injuries.”
Certainly one of the most notable differences in the game recently has been the emphasis on preventing injuries, particularly brain injuries. All of us have found ourselves at some point cursing the refs for flagging a hit we feel was legal, by the rule book, and proven to be on super slow-mo replay. Just a few weeks ago the Seahawks Kam Chancellor delivered just such a hit to the 49ers Vernon Davis.
He was flagged immediately, but as Chris Collinsworth noted after watching the replay, “If that's not legal I don't know what is. I think that is outstanding defensive football.” As Collinsworth and others dissected every minutiae of the play on super slow mo showing how Chancellor led with his shoulder and struck Davis in the chest, everyone concluded it was an allowable hit under the rules, but something important went unmentioned. Vernon Davis suffered a concussion on the play, the very injury the rule the refs were enforcing was meant to prevent. The reason this play caused the injury to Davis despite no helmet to helmet contact is simply because big hits cause concussions, not just hits to the head. As this New York Times article explains:
“Contrary to popular belief, a concussion is not a bruise to the brain caused by hitting a hard surface. Indeed, no physical swelling or bleeding is usually seen on radiological scans. The injury generally occurs when the head either accelerates rapidly and then is stopped, or is spun rapidly.”
The bottom line here is that despite the rule changes that have fans, players, coaches and commenters up in arms, the current rules probably don’t protect players enough. Whether we want to hear it, or not, the danger to players is very real. The costs the sport is facing due to these injuries are very real. Basically, this is a serious problem and we need to do something about it to protect the players and the game that we love.
Unfortunately, football being the macho enterprise that it is, these kinds of rational concerns are usually met with a chorus of enlightening retorts such as, “This a MAN’s sport you wuss!”, “If you can’t handle it go watch figure skating!” and other witty comments about “big boy pants” and “orange slices at halftime” and so on. If history has taught us one thing, its that sometimes the sissy-pants among us have to rise up and take a principled stand to keep us from destroying the things we love with our own stubbornness. In fact, the game of football has been threatened before due to safety concerns. Powerhouse teams across the land were on the verge of dropping the sport altogether, but thankfully a milquetoast wuss took charge of the situation and changed the rules to save the game. Lets meet this namby pamby tinkerbell after the jump...
Oh, Im sorry, did I say the game was saved by a sissy? Actually it was Teddy Roosevelt, American Badass extraordinaire. This guy:
Teddy on his favorite mount, Pickles.
Teddy taking a breather with his trusty rhino "Rowdy" that he rode while hunting in Africa.
Teddy displaying the bait he used while fishing for great white sharks.
Teddy wearing an outfit made from the skin of the last man to call him "Theodore".
A triumphant Teddy after he disarmed this elephant of its shotgun then killed it with his bare hands.
Teddy's "man cave" where he liked to hang out with pals Geronimo, Ghengis Kahn and Chuck Norris.
In 1905 the game of football had become too rough for... Teddy freakin Roosevelt. This is a man who despite having asthma in an age without inhalers was a boxer, a cop, a soldier, a rancher, an explorer, and, of course, president. There are many anecdotes of badassery about Teddy Roosevelt, but I think two sum him up best. First one is that while serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy he was briefly the Acting Secretary of the Navy while the real Secretary of the Navy was indisposed for a few hours getting a massage. Never being one to hesitate when handed an opportunity, Teddy used those few hours in charge to start the Spanish American War. Once he got his war started, he quit his job with the Navy, raised his own volunteer cavalry unit and went down to Cuba to whip the Spaniards himself. How did he top that you may ask? How about the time he was shot by a would-be assassin before he was due to deliver a speech and he just went right ahead and gave the speech anyway. As he told the assembled crowd that day, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot.” Carry on, Teddy, Carry on.
But even Teddy badass had seen enough after a year which saw 18 on-field deaths in high school and college football. Many colleges, including powerhouse programs like Harvard, were considering dropping the sport altogether. Then president Teddy Roosevelt personally intervened, assembling the sport’s first governing body (a committee that would evolve into the NCAA) and implementing a radical rule change that had the old guard of hardnose football traditionalists crying in their sarsaparilla. Since players were dying in what amounted to a scrum at the line of scrimmage, they wanted to spread the game out to keep smaller players away from the larger heavier players who were crushing them to death. To do this, they sanctioned the forward pass ( a silly, sissified gimmick if you asked most “real men” of the time) and football would never be the same again.
A lot of other rules were implemented around this time and along with some innovative coaches who started tinkering with the new formations, you basically have the creation of the game we all love today.
Basically, if Teddy Roosevelt felt the game should be safer, I don’t think I will have to turn in my man-card (its a real thing, ladies) just for feeling the same way. There are lots of reasons to embrace changes to the rules of the game that have nothing to do with being a wuss. For one, its not just the highly paid pro’s or the D-1 college kids who play the sport. Lots of our kids play the sport too and they are suffering the same injuries. Besides rule changes, the entire sport needs to emphasize safer play, starting with Pop Warner, and all the way up to the guys those kids watch on TV. Football is a tough sport and we can never remove all the risks, nor should we, but we should be able to realize when the risks have become completely unreasonable for something that is, after all, just a game.
So while it may be true that referees are erring on the side of protecting vulnerable players, In my mind, that’s exactly what they should be doing. I will miss the explosive hits as much as the next guy, but I also miss things like tackling, a lost art in this day and age of players launching their bodies like airborne torpedoes. I also miss the players who aren’t with us any more due to injuries they suffered entertaining us.
So what rule change could you make to make the game safer from such hits? Does it become touch football? And I'm serious. Maybe touches at certain points end the play. Two hands touch the quarterback, play is over. Two hands touch an airborne receiver or who has yet to take two steps, and the play is over. It would be safer, I wouldn't like it, but I might get used to it. Maybe it would inspire more defensive backs to go for the interception. I don't know. I just have hard time seeing a major safety change working so long as players keep getting bigger, faster, stronger.
On a side note, the speech after being shot is my favorite Teddy moment of all time. I love sharing that with history kids I teach.
On another side note: Have you ever heard Teddy's voice? It is as wussy as they come. High, nasally. Like you'd imagine an ugly woman's to be.
@WallaCoug True, its funny because Lincoln was apparently not blessed a booming voice either (as D D Lewis endeavored to portray) but both men have this almost cartoonish reputation for booming speeches. I guess when you are T.R. you don't need the voice.
As far as rules go, I would think there may be some limiting of the number of plays, especially at the youth levels. I do think you can police a lot of the hits where players launch their body at an opposing player, or blind side a player. Unfortunately there aren't any easy answers and some part of the game will have to be compromised.
While the emphasis seems to be placed on protecting the offensive skill players, my experience is that injury is more likely to result from an attempted tackle or getting blindsided by a blocker. In large part, as a ball carrier, I controlled the action, could dictate the angle that the defensive player would take and then shift to limit the impact. On defense, I was often sticking my upper body into the churning arms and knees of players weighing much more than myself or trying to plant as an instant reaction, rather by intent. Neither of which are conducive to long term health.
While the game has changed in numerous ways, my guess is that defensive players still take the majority of the injuries and I have no idea how they can be protected without drastically altering the game. Two-handed touch maybe???
@oldsavage Honestly, a ban on tackle football below a certain age is certainly something I could see happening in the future.
l Hey, we played flag through ninth grade and produced players like Gail Cogdill and Bill Gaskins. No helmets, no pads and you could put a shoulder into it as long as you were going for flag. Some of the most painful hits of my life. But no real injuries and not much worse than the shin kicks I took playing soccer in PE.
Man, did I get the ball rolling , or what? Looks like the good people at Harvard and the NFL read my post too.
Glad to see on last nights sportscenter that Herm Edwards had read this post. He made some great points about how tackling is actually different now than when he played. The emphasis is on leaving your feat, i.e., launching yourself into the other player trying to blast them rather than wrap them up and tackle them. If you watch old highlights of guys like Dick Butkis who were plenty tough, they definitely were form tacklers and you rarely see them just totally decleat somebody. As Hawk was telling me, he has even observed this emphasis on explosive hits at the little league level where his son plays.
Honestly though, policing the open field hits may be the easy part. What do we do with guys like running backs and interior linemen who are buried in the scrum? I think they have to consider a combination of limiting their # of plays and having regular sideline evaluations.
I love this game and really wish it were safer. It would be nice if I had enough knowledge to suggest changes that would preserve the game AND make it safer. Unfortunately, I'm just a dumb jock never was, so...
I.Heart.This.Post And now we see why the dude is on Mt. Rushmore. Incredidible. And while we're at it--how many lbs do you think that Chinook is that he caught with that bamboo pole? Sixty???? Awesome job!!!!!
@Sutra A lot of people wonder how he got his visage up there with Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington. I think its pretty clear that he climbed up there and carved it himself, in the dark, with a swiss army knife.
IN all seriousness, GREAT work Shaney! Safety is a huge issue, and you are right on the collisions part of it. Isn't ESPN or someone of that ilk about to do a series on head injuries in football?
Anyway, as long as everyone keeps getting bigger/stronger/faster, the collisions will continue to be violent and playing in a game every week is roughly the same toll taken on your body as surviving a car accident, where every inch of your body is sore. I hope there is an answer, other than seeing the sport fall apart at every level, but what can they do? They can't make people run slower or not lift weights. Maybe they will eventually get rid of any upper body tackling to try to lessen the impact, but then you would have defensive players diving at legs every play and torn ACL's would go up about 3000% per year! So that isn't the answer either.
I bet eventually they will get rid of kickoffs. Goodell mentioned that before, that instead each team would just get the ball on the 20 after a score, and that could help cut down on injuries. Teams are probably holding their breath that their better players don't get hurt on special teams anyway, so getting rid of that might eventually happen. And didn't GRONK break his arm on a PAT??
Anyway I know I chimed in earlier last fall about my son quitting football last season, and how selfishly tough that was on me because of the immense pride I got watching him play a game he loved. It was great for a father watching his son do something he loved to do at the time, and the fact that he was good at it made it that much better. But as you see stuff about head injuries, NFL lawsuits, Steve Gleason and his battle with ALS, all that stuff makes me realize that him not playing football? Not exactly the end of the world!
@SeanHawkins Its tough to come up with an answer, but I think the first thing we need is to convince people that an answer is needed. Early attempts to make the game safer are being met with a lot of protest and complaining, but they are doing the right thing. I wish the guys in the booth and the coaches and even the fans would realize that and get on board with what they are trying to do.
One thing that stands out to me is the whole idea of "blowing up" an opposing player in the secondary. These are hits that are aimed at the person, not the ball, and I think that just needs to be done away with. Once a guy has possession you can tackle him, of course, but in the course of the pass and catch you need to be playing the ball. Also we need to monitor players more closely for signs of concussions. Linemen get them a lot without anyone really noticing because they aren't the result of spectacular hits in the open field. a lot of kids aren't going to take themselves out because they feel a little queezy or something, so we need to have trainers on the sideline checking these guys between possessions and making calls about whether they should play that overrule the coach.
Not sure what the answers are, but I am sure that we aren't doing nearly enough yet.
I have to add, the picture of teddy riding a moose is not photo shopped. He did that. That is super dangerous, folks.