#8 – NFL Player Safety Concerns
In the past, we’ve gotten used to seeing highlight reels like this or this on the internet, or even NFL-sponsored content. Time after time, we’ve seen the violent collisions that make American Football so popular glorified by the NFL and used to promote the game. Such promotion has no doubt had a great effect on making the NFL the most popular sport in America.
The league has become bigger, faster, and stronger, and the hits more brutal and violent. With the increasing popularity of the sport and the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, more eyes have turned toward the danger that accompanies these hits. The NFL has had to install more safety measures in recent years. Most of these focus on the quarterback, which many people say is the NFL protecting their golden geese. But the NFL has also taken concussions more seriously. They’ve improved their testing in an effort help diagnose more concussions and have serious post-concussion tests that keep players off the field until they are absolutely ready. Already this year, these tests have kept Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, and Kevin Kolb off the field for an extra week, much to the chagrin of some of their teammates and fans (except for Eagle fans… they couldn’t be happier about how this turned out).
Still, on October 17, we saw four of the most violent hits of the entire season –
The media ran with it. The NFL responded, laying the hammer down on the three players in question. James Harrison was fined $75,000 for his two hits, and both Brandon Meriweather and Dunta Robinson found their wallets $50,000 lighter. The league also threatened suspensions for repeat offenders.
The immediate outrage was immense. Defensive players across the league were asking how they were supposed to change the way they were taught to play. Said Brian Urlacher, “They’re basically saying they want guys to second-guess themselves while they’re in the middle of making a play. We’ve always been taught to play the game full-speed. I just don’t see how you can try to change that.” ESPN NFL analyst and former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Mark Schlereth tore into the league with a four-minute SportsCenter rant (The NFL has since removed The Moment of Impact DVD from their store). The day after the league levied the initial fines, they were still selling the photo of Harrison’s hit on their online photo store (that has also since been removed).
The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell are preaching the concerns of player safety. Yet even now, the league is still pushing forward a 18-game schedule that would no doubt lead to more injuries. Look at the current Injured Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list. Anyone who is listed as on the “IR” has suffered a season-ending injury and is not able to finish the season. That is an atrocious amount of injuries. The NFL seems to only care about player safety when they feel they may lose money and popularity. That is all that matters. The league made some great strides forward with the concussion testing, but this would be two steps backward.
Yet the owners will get their 18-game schedule. They have the ability to lock out the players after this season if they players don’t agree to it. They wouldn’t have to pay player salaries, and they will actually continue to receive the television contract money, despite there being no games. They have nothing to lose. That’s what makes the newest CBA negotiations so tough for the players.
Still, the NFL will continue to enforce and change rules as it sees fit. We’ve seen it many times in the Goodell era. I just hope they don’t continue to sit at the pulpit of “player safety.” We know that’s not the concern, but rather just a convenient end to a mean.