Is the NFL courting a moral panic?

Hint: Your brain isn’t supposed to look like this.

Let’s not talk about retarded political stuff this week. Instead let’s talk about something vitally more important: The future of professional American red-blooded football.

You might have heard about a little lawsuit making the rounds. Believe it or not, but this stuff is apparently scaring the bejesus out of the NFL. And it should be scared.

A fascinating article from Grantland has basically exposed the nightmare scenario: Lawsuits expose the greater-than-reckoned danger of playing contact football. Scared mothers begin pulling their kids out of the sport. With that pipeline of talent drying up, college football rapidly withers, and soon after the NFL collapses.

There have been rebuttals, but they’re mostly from pencil-necks scoffing at lawsuits leading to the downfall of the NFL. It’s not the lawsuits they should be worried about.

The problem with the NFL does not stem from being financially threatened by crippled players. The problem is that the quality of play has so declined that idiots are now running around the field, armored to the gills and killing the league’s talent at a faster rate than ever before. The NFL, in over-expanding and in indulging in the racket that is athletic-wear, has given people who simply do not belong on a professional football team a license to tackle and injure players who do belong.

The NFL has created this crisis by trying to ignore it as long as possible. It used to get away with this years ago when the game was just as violent but not as bone-crunching as it is today. No longer. Like smoking, people have a greater understanding as to what is going on when people repeatedly collide with each other at high speed. And because of this, football is starting to develop a reputation as “that sport that turns people bankrupt by 30,” or worse. Baseball doesn’t have that reputation. Ice hockey doesn’t. Even golf doesn’t.

Lawsuits aren’t going to be the biggest problem when parents really do start pulling their kids out of Pop Warner and high-school football because they don’t want to have to wheel their kids around when they’re 40. And while the league’s superstars may walk (or hobble) away without regrets, the vast majority of NFLers won’t feel their time in the league was worth it when they’re forgotten like veterans returning from war.

There is still time to save the sport. While the league has taken some measures to make it look like it gives a shit about concussions, it’s obviously not enough as incompetent doctors, incompetent players and pushy coaches make the failure of these measures inevitable. The league needs something more.

1) Overhaul protective gear. The pads have to go. The helmets REALLY have to go. The excuses as to why these hard plastic pieces of armor need to go are convincing enough: They add to players’ bulk, and they instill in them the notion that they are invincible, so they can throw their bodies around any way they want.

The reasoning behind giving players as much armor as possible is the same reasoning behind why stupid people buy SUVs and trucks despite not actually needing them. If you’re surrounded by a larger hull, you’re more protected. From smaller cars, sure. But if everyone on the road has an SUV or truck, guess what? Crashing into an SUV is going to put you at greater risk.

Pads and helmets simply make hits more powerful, more powerful than the pads can adequately protect against. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, stripping players down will make them lighter, thus hitting not as hard. It’ll also increase their agility while not significantly sacrificing protection. If you don’t believe me, consider what little gear rugby players wear. I don’t think there’s an epidemic of rugby players stumbling around drooling when they’re 40.

2) Institute and enforce weight limits for players. Players have never been bulkier, owed probably to better nutrition and weight training and whatever. Oh, and also probably aided by steroids. Like point 1, making players lighter also makes them less dangerous. There is no reason for a lineman to be a tub of lard crab-walking around making blocks and generally being a slob. This also has the bonus of saving people their knees and hips.

A weight limit would get players down to a more manageable size. If everybody’s smaller, then there should not be a major change to the quality of play.

Those are the only suggestions that could possibly, maybe be feasible. They’re also damn good suggestions. But it’s incredibly unlikely that either one will be implemented because right now the NFL is not panicking over its image. Concerned, yes. But the reaction to the grim reality that is post-NFL retirement has not yet fazed owners. And to be frank there is no compelling reason for them to care, because as noted, these lawsuits, even if successful, probably won’t put a big dent in their wallets.

The NFL has been exceedingly complicit in hiding the damaging effects of the sport for years. This is a business that generates around $10 billion a year. That’s not trifling money. In order to be compelled into respecting its employees, the NFL has to be given a compelling vision of a world where it no longer exists. If it can see that far.

The league should be preserved, if only so that the Jets and Patriots can be repeatedly humiliated for our amusement. But if moral panics develop over dangerous football concussions, then the moms of America might just pull the plug. And considering the dire state of the majority of people who ever played in the league, maybe it would be a just outcome.

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