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Is pro football writing it’s own death certificate? — Can the game be safe, but retain what makes its great?

Is pro football writing it’s own death certificate? — Can the game be safe, but retain what makes its great?

SCOTT JACOBS

The NFL is in a sticky wicket. It’s the most popular league in the United States by a wide margin, and with popularity, comes a closer examination than any other sport. Then you throw in former players, young in their early 40’s going the suicidal route – possibly due to head injuries sustained while playing the game – lawsuits everywhere (over 500 former players are involved with numerous class action suits suing the league for various post-career problems), and you’re left with a sport teetering on the edge of potential – and hear me out here – extinction.

Football is fun to watch. It’s exciting, it’s violent, it’s an amazing experience live, and almost as good in HD at your local sports bar or on your couch. People love to gamble on it, build fantasy football teams through it, and use it to bond with friends and loved ones. It’s a passion passed on from generation to generation – a game evolving as the equipment and rules have.

Take Thanksgiving as a prime example; Aside from the floats, turkey (or steak), and family, what is the common denominator that most people take part in – watching football. ESPN spends more time talking about the buildup to the NFL Draft than they do the NHL Playoffs. Granted they own the rights (along with NFL Network) to coverage of the draft, but that’s not the point.

Think about a Sunday in the fall without football – or for that matter, a weekend in the fall where no football is played at any level. Picture a world where the game has been deemed too violent, banned from being played like a controversial book is burned. Picture the end of pigskin.

Picture yourself at high school – no Friday night game. Now you’re in college – no Saturday game. Now it’s Sunday – picture being at a sports bar showing nothing but bowling, baseball, and golf.

***

The NFL has been around since 1920 (3 years after the NHL got it’s waterlegs) and it’s the most attended domestic sports league on Earth when it comes to butts in the seat per game.  It’s one of the few things in life promised every year. With the exception of lockouts you will get a season. It’s almost a guarantee. But at its core, the NFL is a business. And at its core plenty of businesses fail, even after surviving for over 100 years: The NFL is 8 years away from that banner season.

But when you think about dynasties, nothing lasts forever. Before people understood just how dangerous the sport was medically it was played far more ruthlessly than it is today. But those same guys who gave their blood, sweat, and tears to get the game to where it is today are suffering the physical consequences later in their lives.

Some struggle to get out of bed. Some can barely stand. Some are simply broken souls. Does this sound like a system that works? A sport designed for the longhaul?

Is the NFL writing its death-certificate courteous of its style of play – which attracted most of the guys now suing it, who are trying to break it for perceived broken promises and lies about doing whatever it took to make the game as safe as possible?

Has the NFL with-held information over the years about the dangers of concussions? That seems to be the argument these former players suing them are now making. And when one scavenger sees a carcass, a whole lot of ‘em follow, which is why you’re seeing former players pouncing on these class action law-suits.

Do these players just want money? Or do they want to break the sport that broke them?

It’s such a complicated, sad situation: this tussle between what makes the NFL great and what makes the sport so wrong. Because let’s face it – if concussions and horrific head injuries lead to what we’ve been seeing — guys like Junior Seau taking their life at the age of 43 (this hasn’t been confirmed as his brain will be examined), then how do you let this game go on in its present form? How do you let kids play a game that harbors within it the power to ruin one’s life?

***

I’ve never found myself saying this before, but football is too powerful for its own good. It’s gotten too big, that it’s out of control. Its greatest strength (violence) appears to be it’s greatest detriment (horrifying head injuries). The players are stronger than before and the way we’re cutting out rules to keep these hulking 4.3 running monsters from killing each other continues to grow.

Talk has grown louder about eliminating one of the games most exciting and dangerous plays – the kickoff. Afterall, it’s hard to think of a more battle-like play than running 40 yards down the field at full speed to tackle a guy using his speed to go towards you.

But let’s say the NFL eliminates the kickoff, and starts each post-scoring possession at the 20. What’s next? Eliminating down the middle crossing patterns because two guys can violently collide while going after the same football? We see quarterbacks getting blind-sided all the time. How can we fix that? By forcing a QB to stay in a goalie-like crease where he can’t be touched for at least 7 Mississippi?

Roger Goodell is trying to make football safer – or at least advance the perception that it’s safer, but if you rip the guts out of what makes the sport so popular, you’re left with just skin and bones – and a game that quite frankly could wilt away.

You can suspend guys, fine them heavily, you can send warnings, and preach about it all you want, but at the end of the day these are violent-minded guys playing a barbaric sport that demands of them Gladiator like toughness. They’re paid to act, not to think.

Their natural instinct is to kill the other guy (not literally I’d hope).

But if that instinct is leading to these horrible traumatic injuries, which lead to CTE, which in turn lead to an uncomfortable number of players taking their own lives shortly after exiting the game, then how do you fix a wildly successful, albeit broken model?

Sure you can get concussions playing lacrosse or hockey but football is the biggest sport around, and when you’re the biggest, you’re always under the brightest lights.

If I was a parent I wouldn’t let my kid play organized football. Period.

There is way too much risk. But I love watching it on TV. I love going to games. I love cheering my team out the tunnel, and taunting the other team after a big hit. So do a lot of people.

I love writing about it, analyzing it, and talking about it. Articles like this may seem to go against that, but I really do love football.

I just don’t love its future the way things are going. In fact, in a sport where betting is a part of the fabric, I’d put healthy odds that the game we know today, could very much be gone in the near future.

Unless of course, the NFL knows something that we don’t: Which is how to make the game safe, while maintaining its integrity. Right now unfortunately, those things sound way too contradictory.

Photo: Getty

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sjacobs

sjacobs

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