Head to Head: Safety v. Spectacle

A big topic of discussion in professional football recently has been whether or not the game is worth the risk of injury that players put themselves in. As more research surfaces about the danger of concussions in the NFL, should we protect players with more rules and fines at the cost of the spectacle of the game? If the essence of the game is the sheer physicality of the sport, do we want to risk taking that quality away from football in order to potentially help players later in life? Sarah Brennan-Athas (SBA) and Steve Cameron (SC) discuss the topic in a series of questions that have recently come up in this subject.

How much protection should quarterbacks get?

SBA: I think that quarterbacks deserve to be protected more than any other position. The quarterback is the star of the game. They call the shots and they’re watching every single player on the field at all times. With so many responsibilities, it only makes sense that he remain protected from possible dangerous tackles. Why should Tom Brady have the same protection as Rob Gronkowski when Gronk’s only job is to outmaneuver three or four guys and be open to catch the ball?

SC: Every player on the field should get the same amount of protection. With all the new research that has come out, it makes sense to protect players’ heads and necks, but only being allowed to hit quarterbacks between shoulders and thighs limits the ability of pass rushers (who are also stars). Watching a sack is equally as exciting as watching a completed pass. Slowing down the aggression of a good pass rusher because he’s trying not to get penalized takes excitement and sheer physicality away from the game.

How far should the NFL go to combat dangerous tackling?

SBA: The NFL has done a great job in recent years to penalize dangerous tackling. However, I do believe that they should raise the amount in fines for players who are caught performing a dangerous tackle. The current fines are not enough for players to take seriously given that they make millions of dollars. They have to realize that they’re running the risk of critically injuring someone to the point of death. Considering football is purely for spectacle, risking an athlete’s life for a game should never be tolerated. These athletes are paid millions of dollars because they are skilled at their profession. Knowing how to tackle safely is part of the job.

SC: I think the new fines on tackling have adversely affected as many clean hits as it has dirty hits. There’s been too much impetus put on player safety to the point where a good clean hit gets penalized because someone gets hurt, which is part of the game. NFL players have played this game their entire lives; they are modern day gladiators who know the risks of stepping on the field and have since they were young. While I hate seeing players debilitated, I think the price of glory is worth any injury below the neck. Just ask Ronnie Lot.

What obligations does the NFL have to consider player safety?

SBA: The reason for all of these safety regulations in recent years isn’t because “the NFL has gotten soft” or that they want to make the game any less exciting. After all, the NFL’s main priority is entertaining their audiences. But it wasn’t until recently that science has exposed the danger behind many of the now-illegal plays. The NFL has formed one of the most dominant brands in the world, and I know they don’t want paralysis or CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) to be a part of it. Going forward, I think they should continue to research new ways to keep their players safe from head trauma and concussions through advanced helmet padding and other forms of physical protection in their uniforms.

SC: New research has shown the danger of head and neck trauma and it’s appalling that it lasted so long, but the new changes to the NFL have made the game softer and far less exciting. Teams get penalized for clean, hard hits and give up 15 yards on the judgement of officials. NFL players are paid far more than most people on the planet. NFL players receive far superior medical treatment than most people on the planet. So the only obligation the NFL has to these guys is to make sure corners are not being cut for their medical treatment and that they get their money.

I think it’s important to note that some players put themselves at risk for job security. All responsibility doesn’t fall solely on the NFL.

Are the rewards for NFL athletes fair compensation for the risks that they run?

SBA: This is a difficult question, and I think it really comes down to athlete awareness. These athletes are playing the game that they’ve loved since they were young and being paid a pretty penny for it, so I really don’t think they would be the ones to speak out against the dangers of football. As long as they’re aware of their risks for CTE and a shorter life span (of which players of the past were not aware), then I believe these athletes are indeed fairly compensated.

SC: I think NFL players are fairly compensated. They get huge contracts, expert medical attention, and more importantly the support and admiration of entire cities. These guys know the risk they are taking when they step on the field and their reward is to get paid to play football. As long as the NFL Players Association is around to create a two party, checks and balances system to keep players’ best interests at heart, the NFL will always be a great and equitable sport.

And we’ll continue to see modern day gladiators inspire us by pushing the boundaries of human ability.




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