Hello Giants fans! We're quickly approaching the start of what should be a very interesting football season, and I for one could not be more excited. I've been a huge fan of football and the NFL ever since I was born, and that love has only grown with every game that I've either watched or played in. That's why I felt compelled to sit down and write about a few problems that I have with what is going on in the NFL today. And the source of most of these problems is Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL.
Now it may be the "in" thing to beat up on Roger Goodell, as every NFL fan that I talk to jumps his ass every time his name is mentioned. But what I'm writing has, for a lack of a better word, evidence that Goodell is not doing a good job running the NFL. Now part of this is inspired by the replacement refs, but a majority of my beef with The Commish is over the "safety" crackdown that he has implemented in his tenure.Now I am understanding of the fact that the NFL as a whole came under a lot of fire ever since the former players filed lawsuits over their concussions. The press took off with the fact that the NFL wasn't "safe". Now I know how insensitive I sound when I say OF COURSE THE NFL ISN'T SAFE YOU IDIOTS. As a football player I know the risk I am taking every time I step on the field, and since I love the game so much I am completely fine with that risk. But that's not the point. The point was the NFL was under pressure to make a change in their policies by fans and media alike. While it was crucial that Goodell and the NFL responded quickly to these reactions, it seems to me that they didn't think through their actions and made choices that are detrimental to integrity of the game.
As you know, two years ago the NFL implemented a rule that requires teams to kickoff from their own 35 instead of their own 30. This five yards of difference usually means that the ball will travel into the endzone (or past it) and result in a touchback, which hurts the game in two different ways. First of all it takes away from the excitement of the game. Excitement that football fans pay way too much to see. Between tickets to games, parking, NFL Sunday Ticket, going out to watch the game at a bar, and all the other expenses that pile up, it's unfair to take away from a product that so many pay good money to watch. But honestly that's the least of my concerns.
What really irks me about this rule is the opportunity it takes away from so many players that are trying to earn a roster spot in the NFL. No, this doesn't affect the big name guys that earn their millions and are comfortably situated on their team's roster. It affects those dozens of guys around the league that most of us don't even know who they are. The Special Teams guys who are in constant jeopardy of losing their job and are hanging on by the skin of their teeth because they can stride downfield and make an impact on Special Teams. Now naturally teams will still need these guys, but slowly we will begin to see the exodus of career Special Team guy from the NFL, take our very own Super Bowl hero David Tyree for instance. Tyree made his living by being a Special Teams gunner that shot down field and made important tackles on both kickoff and punt returns. If guys like him don't have a roster spot because Special Teams spots decrease in value due to the rules Goodell has implemented, maybe we lose plays like The Helmet Catch, a play that will without a doubt go down as one of the greatest moments in NFL history. This goes back to the point of taking away from the product that the NFL is serving us, the fans.
Another point that needs to be made about this specific rule is it pissed off almost everyone in the NFL. Lovie Smith, the Bears Head Coach verbally spat on the rule, and was quoted as saying the following.
"We would work as hard as we could to try to make it safer, but to eliminate that to me is just kind of tearing up the fiber of the game a little bit. Yeah, we have a great returner. But that's a big part of the game. Our fans are probably more interested in coming there to see Devin Hester running a ball back as opposed to seeing a kicker kick it out of the end zone with no action."
The line that really resonates with me is "tearing up the fiber of the game a little bit". I believe Smith hit the nail directly on the head when he said this. As a diehard football fan I am incensed that the NFL thinks they have a right to take away and compromise the integrity of the game that I love. A game that causes me to throw things, cuss and scream, cheer my ass off, and cry tears of joy. Sometimes all at the same time. A game that has millions across the country enamored. A game that has athletes in Pop Warner, high school, and college aspiring to train harder, dream bigger, and dedicate themselves deeper than they ever could have imagined. This is truly a game that means too much to too many, and it really pisses me off that those in charge have a callous disregard to this fact just because they are trying to cover their own butts. It's not right. It's not fair. I can't be the only one that feels this strongly about the game of football. if you're with me give me a Hell Yeah.
Now before I get too worked up I'm going to digress and spare you from more of my soapbox-like rantings. Instead I'm going to try to stick to the facts and continue to make a more intelligent argument against what is going on in the NFL today.
The "Defenseless" Player Protection System
One of the big controversies in the NFL today is how well protected specific players are. The NFL has made and bent rules to protect certain positions, such as the Quarterback and Wide Receiver, because they have been deemed defenseless and have a higher risk of getting hurt. Now before I voice my opinions on this whole situation, lets see the exact definition of a defenseless player per the NFL themselves.
The following is taken from the 2011 NFL Rule Book (pages 73-74) and defines players who are in a defenseless posture. The material is also covered in the 2011 League Policies for Players Manual, distributed to all players in training camp.
It is a foul if a player initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture.
(a) Players in a defenseless posture are:
(1) A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass;
(2) A receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player;
(3) A runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped;
(4) A kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air;
(5) A player on the ground at the end of a play;
(6) A kicker/punter during the kick or during the return;
(7) A quarterback at any time after a change of possession, and
(8) A player who receives a "blindside" block when the blocker is moving toward his own endline and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side.
(b) Prohibited contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture is:
(1) Forcibly hitting the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him; and
(2) Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/"hairline" parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player’s body.
Note: The provisions of (2) do not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or helmet in the course of a conventional tackle on an opponent.
Penalty: For unnecessary roughness: Loss of 15 yards. The player may be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be flagrant.
Now while some of these rules may be good in theory, they are absolutely destroying the defensive side of football entirely. Remember the old standby quote from the famous Vince Lombardi? Yeah, you know, the guy who is one of the founding fathers of modern day football and the man that we named the big shiny trophy we give to Superbowl winning teams every year? It went just like this.
Football is not a contact sport - dancing is a contact sport - football is a collision sport.
I doubt you will find too many football fans or players that disagree with this statement, but it seems the owners and NFL Commissioner just might. Put into practice, these rules are severely restricting what a defensive player can and cannot do while they are trying to make a play (also known as doing their job) on the field. Now don't get me wrong, if a player is maliciously trying to hurt someone and there is a clear intent of injury in a player's actions, they should be punished harshly. But that usually isn't the case when these penalty flags get thrown for "Personal Foul, Unnecessary Roughness on the Defense". Usually the defender is trying to make a stop, and their helmet hits the Quarterbacks, or they gang tackle the Running Back just to make sure he's down, or they throw a block at a kicker or Quarterback just to make sure that they don't make the tackle after they kickoff or throw an interception. And if you don't want to take my word for it, please listen to the words of actual players that disagree with the softness that the NFL has so benevolently graced us with.
"It's freaking football. There are going to be big hits. I don't understand how they can do this after one week of hitting. And I can't understand how they suspend us for it. I think it's a bunch of bull. You know what we should do? We should just put flags on everybody. Lets make it the NFFL - the National Flag Football League. It's unbelievable"
That came from Middle Linebacker Brian Urlacher, who obviously would not be a fan of rules that restrict the defense. But that doesn't contribute to the ethos of my argument. Of course defensive players are mad about this. But what about someone who benefits from these rules? An offensive player perhaps? Surely they are thrilled to have the game change for their protection. This is what Wide Receiver Steve Breaston had to say on the defenseless player rules.
"Say it's third-and-15 and you go across the middle. As a defender, you try to dislodge that ball so he doesn't make the catch. Now, it's what, you let them catch it? You make the tackle, but they pick up the first down? I don't know."
It sure sounds like Breaston isn't crazy about the whole defenseless player idea. And that speaks volumes as to how smart this rule really is.
So the NFL is expecting defensive players to stop playing aggressively and tone back their style of play. It's almost like the people making these rules have never played a down of football in their lives. How does anyone expect these amazing players to pay attention to where they hit another player when the game moves at such a fast pace? It's not like these players have time to analyze where they are hitting the other player, or what angle their body is taking when they go to make a tackle. It's just unfair to the defensive players entirely. Also keep this in mind. It's not just "defenseless players" that are getting injured. It's the linebacker and defensive lineman as well. So if everyone is getting injured, why create rules that destroy the integrity of the game and make the game unfair for one side of the team.
Alternative Methods of Making the NFL Safe
I can sit here and rant about how I disagree with the NFL and all their rules and policies for hours and hours on end, but what's the point if I don't have any suggestions as to what the NFL should do about the safety issue that was presented to it by both former players and media? I'll tell you something. If the rule changes were the absolutely, positively only way that the NFL could become safer, then I would be on board. But if you dig beyond what the NFL tells us, it's easy to see that there are alternative methods to the choices that the NFL has made.
The first adjustment that could have made wouldn't have even cost the NFL much money, if any at all. And that is the simplicity of the mouthpiece.
As most know, the NFL does not require their players to wear mouthpieces. Can anyone tell me how on earth this makes sense? If you're grasping at straws to find an answer, that's because there isn't one. Many studies have shown that a mouthpiece can lock an athlete's jaw in place and absorb a very large portion of the impact a player may take when suffering a shot to the head. This means that wearing a mouthpiece greatly decreases the chances of you receiving a concussion when you take a blow to the head. So the NFL will change the rules and structure of the greatest game on the planet but they won't mandate that their players use mouthpieces? Alright Goodell, THAT makes sense.
But it doesn't end there. No not by a long shot. There are many more measures the NFL could take as far as player uniforms go that would improve upon the safety of their players. Ben Jarvis Green Ellis, the former Patriots Running back took the initiative of wearing a chinstrap that alerted the sidelines of when a player took a shot to the head that had enough velocity to cause a concussion. This chinstrap removes the "macho" aspect of football and allows sideline doctors to take a look at the player as soon as an intense hit happens. Players are known for playing through the pain and this would prevent players from doing more damage to their brain. Yes, giving these chinstraps out to every NFL player could get pricey, but isn't the NFL a billion dollar business? And I think when it comes to choosing between the integrity of the game or a couple extra bucks out of Goodell's and the owner's pocket, the choice is an easy one.
And lets not forget some of the measures that our NFC East counterparts are taking. Both Romo and Vick have both been documented as players who use Kevlar in their uniforms. Whether in their helmets or to protect their ribs, Kevlar is meant to defend the human body from severe injury, especially bullets. So why couldn't Kevlar be effective against a 300 pound NFL lineman? But again, Goodell would prefer to keep costs down and manipulate how the game is played rather than dish out the cash to keep his players safe.
When it comes down to simple facts and figures, Goodell and the owners seem to be avoiding the pressure of the media and former players law suits by taking the cheap way out and changing the fabric of the game itself instead of shelling out some cash and allowing the game to be played the way it's supposed to be played. Quite honestly it's offensive. Are you telling me that the Commissioner and owners don't know about these new technologies that can keep their players safe? I don't buy that. I just think they refuse to reach into their billion dollar revenue stream because they are too greedy to do so. This also relates to the replacement referee situation as well. Instead of paying to keep their product top quality, the NFL will let their product suffer by placing it in the hands of inept referee's that are not capable of calling games that are as large and important as they are in the NFL. I also believe that Goodell is trying to keep up a certain "new sheriff in town" image. And letting players actually hit each other without fear of a fifteen yard penalty or even a fine wouldn't help play to that image that he's created for himself. Now obviously I am a bit biased on this topic, so if anyone has different views on this subject please feel free to share. Or just share your thoughts on this topic in general.