Forget the debt crisis. President Obama has his pulse on the real national crisis: excessive violence in the NFL. Fans, resign yourself to the idea of a gentler game, because the president’s conscience is bothering him, and apparently he’s decided curbing sports-related violence is an appropriate use of his office.
Assumingly, the president — who just wants to protect us from ourselves because he cares so darn much — is referring to ex-players, like Junior Seau, who have suffered traumatic brain injuries that resulted from vicious hits over the course of their career.
While Seau’s suicide is a tragedy, and the occurrence of head injuries in the league is alarming, people need to think before they start clamoring for the heads of NFL officials.
Seau had a history of not seeking medical help following injuries. This “warrior mentality’ is something that is prevalent in the NFL: Players ignore injuries because they want to play and win. Is there anything wrong with this when they recognize and are willing to accept the potentially harmful consequences of that decision? That is not to hold the league irresponsible for actively trying to prevent injuries: They should. But the fact is, players have free will and sometimes choose to ignore medical advice. The league really shouldn’t be faulted for that.
Besides, the league is taking action. Recently, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell voiced his support for a plan to eliminate kickoffs, because some argue kickoff returns are one of the most dangerous parts of the game. It’s an asinine line to draw, since punt returns are essentially just as dangerous. No amount of posturing in the name of player safety excuses the fact that certain types of helmet-to-helmet contact is legal.
The defenseless-receiver rule protects wide receivers when they are making a catch. Because they are focused on catching the ball, not watching out for defensive tackles, they are considered ‘defenseless’ and cannot be hit until they begin running after the catch. However, running backs have no such protection, treating brutal helmet-to-helmet collisions technically legal. While the league does review some plays and fine players after the fact, the problem is, the physical damage has already been done.
On top of this, penalties are not consistently enforced. Take, for instance, Tom Brady being fined $10,000 for a slide that was deemed ‘aggressive’ by the NFL because he raised a leg to defend himself when a defensive player ran into him, yet participants in the Saints’ bounty program — which paid players for aggressive hits — successfully managed to have their league-imposed suspensions overturned.
The problem is not, as Obama so condescendingly suggests, that the game is too violent. The problem is, the bureaucracy of the league has become more important than enforcing the rules of the game. When the league is intimidated by the NFL Players Association to expunge perfectly legitimate punishments — as it was with the Saints’ bounty program — anarchy will rule. When referees arbitrarily enforce rules, whether out of incompetence or rigging as has been alleged, the game can only become more and more tainted by rule abusers. When the league is more focused on racial quotas in coaching positions than the rules of the game, the game will suffer.
The NFL is no longer focused on the merits of the game; it is focused on political correctness. That, Mr. President, is the problem, and your ominous pronouncements foreshadowing possible interference in the future will only make things worse.
But that’s the great thing about real NFL fans: They don’t simply resign themselves to countenancing the abuses of the game. They’re very vocal about their displeasure. In the past, when they thought the sanctity of the game had been violated, they stopped watching and they’ll do it again. When money stops rolling into the league’s coffers, you can bet Goodell will take swift action. Does the NFL have problems? Of course, but let’s allow the free market to sort it out and not mire the game in a vast bog of constricting regulation.
Katherine Revello is a second-year journalism and political science student.