Sports fans have had a love affair with football for a long, long time. It is a man’s game, played by tough guys, not meant for the weak of heart. The contests are exciting, people look forward to game day parties (tailgates for those lucky enough to score tickets, sports bars or individuals’ homes for TV viewers). Everybody knows the players’ names and speaks in football terms to show their knowledge of the game. Decades ago, however, no one ever wondered what happened to those gladiators once they retired. Or why they retired. Or what life after football was like after they retired - mainly because there were always others to fill in the rosters.
In recent years people with wonderful intentions began researching the whereabouts of the guys we all worshiped on Sundays. When games were played only on Sundays. Which could be at the core of the problem. Monday Night Football raised the popularity of the sport to unfathomable heights. Then came Thursdays. These changes weren’t made in the interest of safety but in the interest of money. And money kept rolling in - from ticket sales, luxury boxes, parking, concessions, souvenirs, bobble heads, Fat Heads. And gear. Wearing your favorite player’s jersey - kids, young adults and older people who should know better.
Naturally, this meant salaries and bonus money escalated. The guys who originated all of this requested a piece of the pie, especially in the area of health benefits. Foolishly, the NFL Players Association didn’t pay homage to those who built the game and immediately offer up a fair share - even though there was plenty for everyone - somehow thinking the players who preceded them weren’t as important (or necessary) as they, the current players are. The older players won over the fans’ hearts when we learned of what their lives had become. If a retired player had a limp, he was considered lucky. It seemed the majority of players had to struggle to get out of bed most mornings. The most frightening cases were the men who wound up with dementia, they (or their loved ones) claiming the condition was due to the violent nature of the game. And, of course, the numerous suicides.
Here’s an example of how football has changed. (You decide if it’s for the better.) In the 1970s the most vicious, but not the only, hitter was Jack Tatum, the fearsome, Pro Bowl safety from Ohio State and the Oakland Raiders who was best known for the tackle he made on the Patriots’ Darryl Stingley which left the receiver paralyzed. To illustrate the difference in the game, Tatum never apologized, saying, “I don’t think I did anything wrong that I need to apologize for. It was a clean hit.” Back then there were some who felt it was over the top but the majority thought that while the result was tragic, the tackle was within the rules.
The feeling in the nation today is one of sensitivity, so where football is concerned, there’s been a push - and several rules changes - to make the game less destructive. As each rule is passed, more and more traditionalists are expressing their distaste for the people who are “ruining” the game they love.
The latest rule change - which may be the final straw, i.e. don’t be surprised if the rule is amended before a game is played this season - is the one which would not only have disallowed South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney’s perfect tackle, i.e. exactly the way tackling is taught, but ejected Clowney from the game! Keep in mind that this play followed a referee’s error which would have, for all intents and purpose, had an undeserving team winning. To take the play that was voted the Play of the Year and claim it should have been illegal, i.e. the player who was praised instead being ejected shows that either 1) the people who make up rules committee are admitting to us that football, as we know it, has basically been a sport for Neanderthals or 2) they’re intent on drastically altering the game America loves whether their solutions are practical or not. The NCAA might want to rethink what they’re doing to a game that people who play and watch expect to be dangerous.
How does anyone in their right mind expect that in a game of action-reaction, that in the blink of an eye it’s realistic for players to even process what the rule makers are
suggesting mandating them to do? I wonder if anyone timed the play from the snap of the ball to Clowney grabbing the fumble? I haven’t but, after seeing it at least 25 times, I’ll bet it was between three and four seconds. Replays can be seen in slow motion, making a collision look worse than it was. Players don’t play in slow motion.
All of the health related issues, especially the suicides, are devastating but I can’t believe the current rules changes would have prevented those problems. Just the interior line contact during each play is enough to scramble a guy. Yet they choose to play it. And we choose to watch it.
No matter what the rules makers do, it still comes down to what former Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty said:
“Football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport.”