Monday, October 18, 2010

Weighing in on NFL and Violence

So we're at a bit of a crossroads in professional football. The evidence is in and the guys who repeatedly hit and get hit hard have a brain on par with those with advanced alzheimers by the time they retire. The elite size and power of the athlete has far exceeded what can be technologically protected with equipment.

It has led some experts like Malcolm Gladwell to predict that football will be obsolete in 25 years because any parent in their right mind won't let their kids' brains turn to mush. It is hard to believe that all the hysteria surrounding this game would vanish that quickly, but I do respect Gladwell and his insight a lot and I think we have to at least hear the warning cries.

This past weekend saw a number of big hits leading to offensive players being removed from games. From Todd Heap getting hit by Brandon Merriweather, to DeSean Jackson, Josh Cribbs and Mohammed Massaquoi.

It is one thing to tackle in a way that causes offensive players to think twice before going across the middle again. It is another thing completely to go for a deliberate, excessive hit that doesn't cause the offensive player to think twice...but causes them to stop thinking.

I get that football is a dangerous and violent sport. But are we going too far? Just like if blue collar workers were working in dangerous conditions, there would be advocacy on their behalf for safer conditions, so we ought to be evaluating whether its an ok thing for athletes to risk their very livelihood for the sake of a catch in a silly game.

Merrill Hoge is a former NFL player who had his career ended by concussions and he actually had to go into two years of rehab to relearn how to read.

So the solution that looks to be proposed is that instead of fining players for bad form in tackling, the league will now suspend offending players. I think that this is a step in the right direction as charging a pro athlete the equivalent of charging me a $50 fine won't really change much. I'd love to see a repeat offender clause that says if you are deliberately using excessive violence to take out a player in multiple contexts, you will be suspended without pay for 1 game then 4, then a season.

For what its worth...James Harrison's hit on Josh Cribbs was a tolerable hit...though he lead with his helmet, it was making a play on a runner. Harrison's hit on Massaquoi was not ok. He went helmet to helmet and it was obvious that the intent was to blow Massaquoi up rather than hit him hard. The link is here...Watch Harrison's arms and then his demeanor after the play and it is obvious that it is excessively violent. He didn't even get flagged for this even though it was obvious in real time for the announcers and for the viewers at home that it was not a clean hit.

I'm not voting for making the NFL a soft game...but you've got to tame and manage the killer instinct in some of these athletes or you will see not only games or seasons ended but careers and lives.

As an show I'm not completely biased against the Steelers and for the Browns...TJ Ward had a shot against Cincinnati that was also excessive.

So what do you think? Let well enough alone or start controlling the violence?

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