NFL: Will Changing The Rules Make A Difference?
The NFL announced yesterday that, effective immediately, they are cracking down on egregious violations of the current rules. In other words, they’re going to start fining and suspending anybody who dishes out hits that are somewhat suspect or downright dirty.
Based on the hits we saw this weekend I can understand the knee-jerk reaction from the league. DeSean Jackson got laid out by Dunta Robinson and they both had to leave the game. Todd Heap got annihilated, and a kid got paralyzed up at Rutgers. Yes, they were reacting to that too.
I know they didn’t actually change the rules, but they made it hard for players to ignore them.
Is this even going to make a difference? You bet it will, but not the difference the league is counting on. It’s one thing to make an upgrade in player safety and it’s quite another to act like you’re surprised.
Football is Violent
Ok, I might as well say the sky is blue or water is wet, but you get the idea. These guys, and everybody who watches football, know what they signed up for. Football is a violent sport that Americans love. We also love boxing, MMA, UFC, fake wrestling, and any other kind of violent entertainment we can get our hands on.
The guys who play in the NFL know they’re going to get knocked around, but they are being paid obscene amounts of money to get knocked around. They knew it was coming. You’d think the NFL front office would have this figured out by now.
Apparently, they weren’t exactly clear on how violent football is. I guess when you’re up on Madison Avenue making a gazillion dollars a year you can afford to miss these tiny details of the sport you manage.
You see, in America, you can change the station. It’s a miracle, I know, but if you don’t like to watch someone get their block knocked off then you can change the channel. Hell, we’ve got DirecTV and there are 999 channels.
Changing the rules (or enforcing them more) won’t make the NFL safer, but it will make people turn off their TVs. The fun will be gone. There won’t be any more “jacked up” highlight reels of guys getting destroyed by a defensive back. Fans needs a reason to ooh and ahh. Hits accomplish that for the league.
But Players Have To Be Safe
I’m all for player safety. Eric LeGrand, the player from Rutgers, was paralyzed during a pretty routine hit that went bad when he dipped his head. So, players are routinely taught not to spear with their helmets, to always see what they’re hitting, and lead with their shoulder. That is a move in the direction of player safety.
Other moves included rules to protect the quarterback, rules to protect receivers, and rules to protect kickers. All of these people were vulnerable and likely to get killed at any moment by a Mack truck — I mean, defensive lineman.
We could all live with it because it kept players safe and prevented defenseless players from getting seriously injured. It didn’t really hurt the integrity of the game, but it did piss off some defensive players. They got over it, remember?
The league is banking on that same kind of mentality now. It’s the old “we’ll change something and everyone will get over it” thing. Amercians have short memories, but only if the product they are watching doesn’t suffer too much. That’s the problem.
What Are Players Supposed To Do Now?
Imagine the thought process of your typical defensive player. ”I’ve got to make plays or I get cut.” “If I don’t get cut I need to make plays to earn that big contract.”
That’s pretty much it. These guys are taught to be playmakers from an early age. I don’t think training for football requires a lot of thinking — it requires reacting.
Players see a play, react to it, and somebody gets clobbered. Pro players know to lead with the shoulder, keep their heads up, and keep themselves out of trouble. Every once in a while a guy will fall into the wrong position and helmets will collide.
You know what? I bet most players in the NFL wouldn’t like it, but they would understand getting fined for that. It’s just part of the game. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
Now the more strict enforcement of the rules is going to make guys think twice. That’s where to problem lies.
A dude is thinking, “If I hit this guy the wrong way I’ll get suspended.” Now he’s slowing up because he’s afraid of getting fined or suspended.
Another dude who isn’t thinking about that (at that precise moment) comes along and kills the dude who’s thinking. Now the guy who was thinking was “supposed” to be safe and he’s lying motionless on the ground. You just wait. It’s going to happen.
The rest of the time guys will be moving a little slower than normal and the games will suffer. Offenses will have the upper hand. Defenses will be hamstrung to do anything about it. Oh, and the league won’t care.
The police-state mentality from the league is going to get someone killed. It likes driving 50 in the left-hand lane on the freeway; you’re just asking for it.
Of Course It Will Make A Difference
The games are going to suffer. That’s the bottom line. Now, the only question to ask is, “Will it stick?”
I’m willing to bet that even though the league will start fining and suspending players left and right that this won’t stick. They’ll get to the end of season and realize they need to be much more specific and actually change the rules.
A change in wording here or there. A conversation with coaches about players are taught to hit. A slight alteration in how the league views devastating hits, and we’ll be all set.
But it’s going to take specifics to get things done. Guys need to know exactly what they can and can’t do or they’ll be walking on eggshells all the time. They’ll be afraid to play. Is that what we want? As a football-loving nation — I don’t think so.