By Brad Spencer
This Super Bowl, unlike any Super Bowl before it, arrives riddled with questions regarding the safety of NFL players. But are they really in danger health-wise playing football?
"It's not a contact sport; it's a collision sport." That's what my high school coach used to remind us after a knee-buckling hit that made us look even more dazed and confused than we did before suiting up for practice. While other statements at the time from the crusty coach seemed foreign — see "Stop trying to tackle like an alligator!" — the contact-collision thing always made sense. We chose our own paths, but, once we did, the inevitable meeting point resulted in a collision. That's the essence of football. Decide where you're going to go and try your darndest to get their before your opponent does.
Nearly 25 or so years removed from playing the sport where I dislocated both shoulders — thankfully at separate times — broke a finger and felt queasy after a hit one too many times, I'd say football is too dangerous. But I'm an avid fan of the sport and would only like to see maybe two changes, if any, in regards to its safety issues. First, the NFL needs to do more specific testing of performance enhancing drugs.
Anymore, these players look super-human, and not only that they seem to return from debilitating injuries ridiculously fast. Look no further than Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps tear) and Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson (ACL tear). I'm not accusing these guys of taking illegal or banned supplemental drugs to quicken the healing process of their injuries, but I have no qualms about referring to them as freaks of nature. Perhaps Lance Armstrong and the many baseball gods, including those who have admitted and those who have not despite strong evidence to the contrary, have sullied my perception of all professional athletes.
But, really, in this day and age of flaxseed oil and deer antler chemical spray under the tongue, can there not be rampant, league-wide abuse of performance enhancing drugs? It needs to be looked at under a microscope.
My second change, and this is a big one, would be to outlaw hits. That's right, hits. All hits. Sounds dumb doesn't it? But is it just so dumb that it's actually genius? Don't answer that. Hear me out first.
I'm talking about doing away with hits as they pertain to tackles. If someone has the ball, and you, the defender, come up and hit him without wrapping your arms around and attempting to make a legitimate tackle? Flag. Ten-yard penalty. If a receiver comes across the middle, catches the ball, no longer should a safety be allowed to lower his shoulder and punish the receiver with a blow to the chest, which usually lays him out flat. He must attempt to tackle him, not hit him. Tackle him. Wrap the arms, lift up, bring down. Same goes for a kick-off returner. You can't heave your body at the runner in the hopes you will knock him down, you must wrap the arms. Blocking is different from hitting, and therefore permissible, as long as the person you are blocking does not have the ball.
Football has never been a safe sport, but it can definitely be made safer.