Like it or Not, NFL Must Change

I’ll recap the game shortly, but first let me address the aftermath of the Austin Collie situation.

There was a strong backlash against the penalty called on the hit of Collie yesterday.  Several members of the media, ex-NFL players and coaches, even current Colts rose up to call the helmet to helmet clean and to criticize the penalty.

I understand why.  New realities are forcing all of us to reevaluate such hits.  What once would have been considered a Hall of Fame play now makes defensive backs the targets of fines and suspensions, and many people within football are furious about it.

Let me be clear: It doesn’t matter how they feel.

The NFL brass has seen the hand writing on the wall, and they are acting proactively to institute a culture change within the NFL.  We’ve only reached the tip of the iceberg on brain trauma research.  What the NFL fears most is that a damning report will be written in the next couple of years that declares that football in and of itself is far too dangerous a game to be played by 10 year-olds, 15 year-olds and 20 year-olds.  I strongly suspect that they are acting preemptively to reshape the game and the culture of football so that the game will continue beyond that day.

Helmet to helmet first contact is never “legal” anymore.  NFL rules state the helmet cannot be used as a weapon.  Kurt Coleman lowered his head and made first contact to Austin Collie’s head.  This is no longer to be considered clean and legal.  We are coming to a day when defenders will be expected to avoid hitting runners and receivers in the head.  His was a “jacked up” moment and Hall of Fame hit five years ago. Now it is a penalty, a fine, and a suspension.  Intent is not relevant.  This is what people have to understand.  I don’t think Coleman meant to knock Collie cold.  But as my father-in-law used to say, “He didn’t mean not to”.  

The implications of this change in the burden on DBs from “don’t try to kill the ball carrier” to “specifically try NOT to kill the ball carrier” will have a profound affect on the way football is played.  The old guard senses this intuitively and is reacting against it so as to preserve the game they know and love.

What the Bill Cowhers and Jason Whitlocks of the world don’t understand is that these attempts to ‘save’ the game will only serve to destroy football in the long run.  When the A-bomb study hits, and everyone is forced to look at the damage football does to young brains still forming, there will be legislative action.  Pee wee football may well be outlawed.  Football will become a flag game at the high school level.  The flow of players to the college game will be choked off, even if the big money of the NCAA manages to keep the game legal for 18 year-olds. Football will be lucky to survive at all.  The only chance that NFL football exists in 25 years as a major sport is to radically change the culture and expectations of players and coaches toward helmet to helmet hits.

This is a reality and it is coming.  Like it or not.  The NFL has to change.

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