Call me an NFL Rubbernecker
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You know, I was going to bring a sign about this very topic to Monday night's game...
For nearly five years, I spent at least two hours a day traversing either the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway. You see a lot of crazy things when driving two of the most trafficked roads in America, but nothing sticks with you like a seven-car pileup or a minivan engulfed in flames. It's both terrifying and tantalizing all at once.
And that's football. We watch for the open roads and high speeds, but we remember the collisions and whatever the football-equivalent of a car fire may be. While I'm writing this, I constantly get distracted by tweets of the weekend's top hits in college or the pros. Oooh, did you see that Ga Tech hit? Oh man, did you catch Adrian Peterson bowling over William Gay? Destructive hits aren't just part of the game -- they're what we remember most.
You know what's the worst thing about this whole concept? I don't feel bad about it at all. Players know what they are getting themselves into when they strap on a helmet. I cannot believe some players still wear the older style helmets when the advances in technology have come so far with anti-concussion protection. Sure, there's more research to be done, and sure I've seen the studies and listened to Malcolm Gladwell preach about how even small collisions between linemen can cause debilitating damage to the brain when those small collisions are repeated 50 or 60 times a week. But I don't really care. That's part of the job description. It's just like I don't care when a guy works on a loading dock for 30 years and has chronic back problems or when the court stenographer gets carpal tunnel syndrome. What the heck did you think was going to happen?
I would not begrudge a player for quitting sports in fear of injury just like I wouldn't begrudge an employee for quitting their job -- any job -- if they didn't feel the safety measures were up to code. But if you show up for work, do your job. And in the NFL, that means smashing mouths.
Now, the question posed is if we think the NFL can still excite fans with less mouth smashing and more emphasis put on safety. The short answer: no. People are irate -- football people -- when the rules come out each year to further protect the quarterback. You can't hit their heads. You can't hit their knees. You can't push them after the ball is thrown. They might as well start wearing pinnies during the actual games! So no, if people are complaining about protecting a quarterback, imagine what they'll say about more flags and fines coming out for big hits. The headlines will rain down: NFL to become NFFL - National Flag Football League.
It will not work. After a week's worth of frustration at work, our senses are on overload. We need a release and rather than punch a wall, most Americans release that energy vicariously through their team colors. Yellow flags just make us angrier -- especially those tucked into players' pants.
Now, before the hate mail starts, let me say this: it is not only the responsibility, but the obligation, of the NFL to ensure the safety of its players, sideline personnel and officials. It's imperative that all members of the NFL umbrella get the best safety and medical care available. If it costs money for the NFL to do a thousand studies on the brain and clinical trial after clinical trial to come up with the right combination of helmet, neck support and shoulder pads to reduce debilitating injuries, they need to spend that money. Actually, they should double it to make sure they stay ahead of the curve.
Safety is important. But that doesn't mean I still won't be tantalized by the pile-up every week.
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