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NFL Can't Legislate Gravity

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NFL Can't Legislate Gravity

Years ago, there was an NFL Films special about the poem "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio."  It tells the story of a run-down town where high school football connects the generations.  The final stanza goes like this...

Therefore,
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.

The NFL would like to rewrite that poem to something more like this...

Therefore,
Their sons play a very safe game
At the beginning of October,
And gallop gently toward each other, but pull up before anyone gets hurt.

Doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?

The league is in a tough spot.  Concussions are a major problem.  The specter of brain damage lurks like a shadow.  Perhaps legislating against helmet-to-helmet hits is the way to go.

But isn't violence a fundamental part of football? Great defenses scare offenses. It's a beautiful thing to see a receiver short-arm a pass because he fears going over the middle. And it's also amazing to see someone like former Bear Tom Waddle embrace the danger, grab the ball and get knocked the hell out. It's a game of chicken. It's a test of wills. It's why fans are willing to shell out a few hundred bucks to see a game in person.

Bears safety Chris Harris says helmet-to-helmet tackles are basically inevitable.  And he's right.  In order for one man to wrap his arms around another while running at top speed, the head is going to come into play.  We're not talking about the head-hunting psychopaths who wait until a receiver is defenseless to spear them in the face mask. Those guys deserve fines and suspensions.

But let's get real. We're dealing with giant athletes moving very quickly. It's a defender's job to find the ball carrier and bring him down as quickly as possible.  The NFL isn't outlawing that, are they?  As long as tackling is part of the game, people are going to get hurt.  The league has already taken every reasonable step to curtail intentionally vicious hits.  But all the rules in the world can't stop a man in mid-air from hitting someone who suddenly ducked his head or fell forward.  At that point, you're trying to legislate gravity.

Joe Paterno thinks we should eliminate helmets altogether.  Anyone want to start the clock on how long it takes for someone to break their nose or lose a few teeth?  You can get a concussion just by falling.  Helmets are a good idea.  We just don't have the science to make the helmets concussion-proof.

Every NFL player assumes the daily risk of career-ending or life-altering injury.  It's part of the price you pay for getting millions of dollars, throngs of fans and a parade of women.  Maybe someday, we can make a completely safe game.  But for now, let the professionals do what we love to watch them do.  Let them gallop terribly against each other's bodies.  It's poetry.

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