Sunday, December 13, 2015

                              Football’s Elephant in the Room

I wrote this prior to the start of the season but couldn’t bring myself to post it because I love the game as it is so much that I’m not sure I’m prepared to stand behind the position I’m taking here. But I am prepared to stand behind the position that “player protection” rules, justified as they may be, are killing the game that I love. Anyway, wishy-washy stance aside, this is good food for thought so I figured I’d go on and throw it out there.

In some states, High School Associations are limiting the number of hours and days each week that a high school football team is allowed to have full live contact during practices. I dunno, to me that seems like telling a basketball team it is only allowed a certain amount of practice time to take shots at the basket, or limiting the number of times the bat can be swung at a baseball practice. I get that some coaches, especially at the high school level, can be over the top and need to be monitored, but there are already reasonable rules at most all non-professional levels designating the amount of practice time allowed. Not allowing a coach the freedom to use as much of that time deemed necessary to simulate the game itself doesn’t make sense. It’s contradictory to the word “practice” because on Friday night, it’s full “balls to the walls” contact. And there’s where the contradiction lies, the hypocrisy of it all.  Full contact is limited in practice because, well, football has become, if it wasn’t always, a dangerous sport riddled with injuries. We’ll acknowledge that fact Monday thru Thursday, but nobody wants to acknowledge the proverbial Elephant sitting in the stands on Friday night. But I’ll say it. I’ve said it before several times, so I don’t need to see your reaction. I know most of ‘em by heart: Flat out laughter. “You’re-outta-your-mind” arched eyebrows. “Who the hell would watch?” comments. You know, the general reactions reserved for suggestions from complete idiots. So I must be an idiot, lost my marbles, flat out crazy because to me the solution to eliminating the danger in football doesn’t lie in rule changes or in limiting exposure to the game. It seems obvious to me that there’s only one valid solution. Are you ready? Here goes: We can’t play tackle anymore. (HUGE GASP) Sacrilegious, heathen, un-American.  And just so you know, I’m not some bitter dude who played high school soccer because I wasn’t big or good enough to make the more popular football team. I, like most, find the fact that it’s “tackle” to be the most appealing aspect of the sport. My parents implored me to not play tackle in the neighborhood sandlot pickup games. But I’d have none of that. And for the most part, I found football practice to be boring. But not when we were full contact scrimmaging. I wanted to play football. Not run the same plays over and over again against air or some poor freshman holding a blocking pad. No, I love tackle football as much as the next guy. But the results are in. The game has gotten too physical. Players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before. Retired NFL players are finding that the physicality of the game has had some long term effects on their bodies. Kids are getting paralyzed. Our love of the game of football and what we think it should be keeps us from admitting the obvious. Instead we’re slowly but surely destroying the game with half-assed solutions. The most offensive being rule changes. Can’t hit with your helmet, can’t hit ‘em high, can’t hit ‘em low, can’t hit in the back, can’t grab ‘em by the necksleeve, can’t touch the facemask or the helmet, can’t hit (especially the QB) anyone who is within a yard of going out of bounds, and on and on and on. I mean, it’s to the point where they should paint a small “bulls-eye” on the front of a player’s jersey representing the legal “strike zone”. But then I guess that would be the very definition of “targeting”.  And now there’s a rule for hitting a “defenseless” player. What does that even mean? Hell, they’re all defenseless once they step onto the field. And it isn’t like any of these rules is gonna minimize the physicality of the game. Their only purpose is to provide a certain degree of liability insurance for the football organizations themselves. “Hey, it’s not our fault. We made rules sayin’ he wasn’t supposed to hit him that hard.”
Someone has to step up and say “the emperor has no clothes”- it’s time to stop playing tackle. It seems absurd now, but eventually, probably many decades from now, this will become a reality. The new rules are already taking us in that direction.

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