Player Safety Vs The Integrity Of The Game: Where's The Line?

Doug Pensinger

While the NFL ponders on removing kickoffs from the game, many may wonder how far they'll go to protect players who are signing up to possibly get injured.

Regardless of the culture or geographical location, Human Beings are violent and you don't have to study the countless wars we've fought to come to that revelation. We figured that out when the Romans packed a coliseum to watch two men hack away at each other until only one was standing or to watch worshipers of an unpopular god be fed to wild animals.

Of course, as we humans have progressed, we have done away with the two men enter, one man leaves Thunderdome-style of sports, but the most popular games are still the most violent, at least in America. How else can you explain the explosion of Mixed Marshal Arts in the past decade and, of course, the giant money making machine that is professional football.

As time has gone on, players have become bigger, stronger and faster, which has made the collisions between them bone rattling. Also, our understanding of the human body and advancements in modern medicine have shown us the consequences of those bone-rattling hits, one of which is recurring concussions. Over the last few years so much money has been aimed towards the study of the effect of multiple concussions and the NFL has done a ton of work to make the game as safe as it can without ruining the game itself. One of the biggest, and most controversial, changes was to move kickoffs to the 35-yard line so most would end in touchbacks due to the fact that some of the most violent hits come on kickoffs.

Players are still being injured however, and the league, in an attempt to protect itself from lawsuits and a reputation that they don't care about the players that make the whole thing work, is pondering once again if they should change kickoff rules. One idea they came up with isn't to move the line any further, but it's to get rid of the whole practice all together.

Here's the idea: Basically after a team scores, or to begin a game or the second half, the team who scored, or who won the coin toss, would have the ball on their own 30-yard line and they would be automatically put in a 4th-and-15 situation. They could either punt, which would take the place of kickoffs, or they could go for it, which would essentially be the new onside kick. The punt would be safer, due to the fact that players run down the field together instead of at each other and smash like water on rocks, and it wouldn't necessarily change how the game works.

This isn't something that is being discussed as a rule change to take place soon, it was just an idea floated in a meeting as something that could make the game safer. I would say the chances of a rule change this radical taking place in the next couple years are slim to none, but you never really know what's going to happen. And if it does happen, it has to make football fans wonder where's the line?

I seriously doubt there's a single NFL player who was completely unaware that they could be seriously injured when they signed their contract. Football is a violent game and the players at the professional level know that injuries come with the territory. Obviously, the fact that players get hurt sometimes isn't deterring the thousands of college players that would kill over the shot of playing in the NFL, and one has to wonder when the league can put there hands up and say "you got hurt because football is a violent game and you knew that when you signed your contract, we're not liable for that."

Make the helmets safer and penalize for unsafe hits on defenseless players, that's fine, but don't make a fundamental change in the game itself to protect from lawsuits down the line. That isn't how you make fans and players happy. That's just how you find yourself on a slippery slope of turning America's favorite sport into something totally different. Something like this:

While I doubt that we'll be seeing a punt-or-go-for-it system any time soon (can you imagine a high powered offense going for it every time... the score would end up being 70-3) the fact that they're actively thinking about making a change that's this drastic is scary. Hopefully the powers that be figure out soon that football is violent and there's isn't much they can do to change that fact without messing with what makes the game so popular to begin with. Only time will tell.

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