Devil’s Advocate: Fundamentally changing a sport is always bad

In Devil's Advocate, Opinion
Courtesy of MCT
Courtesy of MCT

 

This isn’t your father’s football anymore, people; gone are the days of hard-hitting, heart-pounding action.

Say goodbye to tackle football and say hello to soon-to-be tag football­—that’s the direction the NFL is going with recent rule changes. Joining a brace of other rules instituted in recent years, the higher-ups in football have spoken once again.

The NFL recently passed a new rule change that makes it illegal for a running back or any offensive player to lower the crown of their helmet outside the tackle box. That means no more ramming through defenders to get extra yards. That means being exposed and having to take a tackle instead of running through a tackler.

That means a cheapened product on the field.

Now, owners will tell you it is all about making the game safer, as the rule passed by a “wide margin” according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, but it has nothing to do with player’s safety.

It all has to do with owners’ bank accounts. In light of multiple lawsuits from former players on the basis that the league isn’t doing enough to protect the players from serious injuries, the NFL has now passed multiple rule changes to try and show the courts, “Hey look at what we’re doing.”

In the process of doing this, they’re taking away what makes football great; the brutal action.

First, NFL owners voted in 2011 to move kickoffs up five yards to the 35-yard line and restricted the running start that special teams get to five yards behind the ball in an effort to limit injuries. What has resulted is an increase number of touchbacks and the loss of one of the most exciting plays in the game, the kickoff return.

Then, the NFL stepped up its efforts on limiting a defensive player’s ability to inflict pain on the offense when any hit that is even remotely close to the head—a good idea in theory—is subject to a penalty and a steep fine.

It is a good rule “in theory” because one would love to protect the head.

But even when defensive players aim low the offensive player, in an effort to protect themselves ducks down, he might get hit in the head. The defense gets penalized even when his intention was to make a legal play.

Now, tacklers have had to change the way they go in for a tackle or even let up on a tackle, allowing the ball-carrier to avoid the tackle. This has taken away another exciting play key to draw in fans to the game.

We watch for the violence. We watch for the big hits.

We have this new rule which eliminates the offensive players to lead with the crown of their helmets now, so that monster play by rookie running back Trent Richardson of the Cleveland Browns where he ran through an Eagles defensive player—making his helmet fly off his head—is no more.

Richardson himself jokingly tweeted that he is sorry for that play, musing he believes that is why the new rule exists.

Many great running backs—such as Emmitt Smith—have voiced their displeasure over the rule, asking how running backs are supposed to protect themselves now. They are exposed; one used to be able to put one’s head down and absorb the hit.

Now, a running back’s front will be exposed to the defensive player. This will lead to runners having to slide to get more yards or getting hurt. It has nothing to do with safety.

Imagine your team down late in the fourth quarter and facing a fourth and one. The quarterback hands off to the running back and he runs it up the middle but sees that there are no holes open. He lowers his head and rams through for the one yard gain and your team scores to win.

Now with the new rule, that will be a penalty and your team  will end up losing.

Players know the risk involved in playing the game. Nobody is forced to play the game; they know the game is violent and that’s why so many people love the game. If you can’t take the pain and injuries, then don’t play the game. That’s a sentiment many players echo as they hate all these rule changes. These are, after all, these men’s livelihoods, and they should know best when it comes to how things should be done.

So if it’s not okay with the players, it’s not okay with me.

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