(Editors' note: Concussions are changing the NFL. That's an inescapable fact. What does this mean?)
VINCE: The NFL’s initial suspension of Ed Reed for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders was met with apocalyptic derision in the football community. The suspension was later overturned (Reed was instead fined $50K), but the general rage hasn’t subsided. There’s a battle between the caretakers of the game. Some -- like the league office and owners, terrified of potential concussion lawsuits -- are preoccupied with safety, whether it’s motivated by altruism or self/pocket preservation. Others -- mainly current and former players, and many fans -- deride the NFL for obtrusively legislating masculinity and entertainment out of the game. That’s always the subtext. When a former player says it’s impossible for a defender to play the game carefully enough to avoid helmet-to-helmet hits, it’s usually followed by some nod to reckless abandon being part of the game and veiled jibes about sissification. Others say the game that pro football will soon resemble is one that will be devoid of entertainment. “It’s going to turn into touch football.” Sounds like some Joe Biden-malarkey, to me.
KHALID: Well why can’t they come up with a better helmet? I understand that there are g-forces involved and velocity and everything else. But are you telling me that nobody has a shock-proof helmet? There’s not a lab somewhere, in some hidden facility, where the only task is to create a concussion-resistant helmet? If not, then, the game will likely look different in a few years. I don’t know if football fans have thought this through. As they legislate out hitting (which is happening slowly, but surely) i wonder what the sport will look like? Ten years from now, it might be a totally different league. Will people watch it when it resembles touch football? Probably, yeah. But the numbers might dwindle. All the people who comment on how the NFL is bulletproof, who say that there’s no way the fans will leave, well, all they have to do is look at boxing. Prizefighting was king in this country for decades. Now, it’s damn near an afterthought. Purists and old heads mostly comprise the fanbase. Fans leave, it happens. The other option is continued concussions and, seemingly, we are ready to say no to that as a culture. I love football, but i understand.
VINCE: Prizefighting didn’t lose fans because the actual sport of boxing changed. It’s not like, back in the 1960s and ‘70s, Muhammad Ali could punch dudes in the junk and then, gradually, junk-punching was outlawed and boxing fans said, “Man, forget this ‘no junk-punching’ business, I’m through with boxing.’” Fans stopped watching boxing because of lower-stakes (the splintering of belts), shams, corruption, weak heavyweight divisions and such. If anything, what threatens pro football the most -- and this has been mentioned before -- is helicopter-parents not allowing their kids to play the game because of the potential dangers and funneling the best athletes to other sports. You can’t tell me that supremely athletic, often highly intelligent men can’t recalibrate and figure out a way to remain maniacs and entertain the bloodlusting in an “Are you not entertained?!?!!” kind of way. And, real talk, I watch football for the skill -- pretty passes, “no he didn’t” one-hand snags, a running back juking a linebacker out of his jock strap, a ball-hawking safety, a defense swarming the backfield like locusts -- not the violence. I say, “OOOOOHHHHHH,” just like the next cat after a big hit; but I can’t ever recall recapping a game and thinking, “You know, there were no big hits.” I respect the NFL athlete far too much to buy into this rhetoric that defenders can’t defend, while also ensuring that they keep their helmets off the opponents’ helmets. Players and fans are being proprietary.
KHALID: I admit to watching the violence. My fav Eagle for years was Brian Dawkins. His whole job was to blow people up. Seeing a guy get tagged never bothered me, as long as he got up, of course. I still, to this day, get scared when a guy can’t move and they bring the stretcher out. Nobody wants to see anyone die on the field and now we don’t want them to die because of football, at all. I really don’t see an easy way out. Better equipment is the light at the end of this rugged tunnel. Football players are gonna play under whatever parameters given and deemed appropriate. The NFL is not gonna let guys get concussed. The public relations aspect of it is already bad. People have a casual understanding about concussions now and the term is easily spoken. Ed Reed or not, the league can’t go backwards. It’s too late. Lawsuits are the least of the problem. They might have to bear down under the weight of advertisers, who see the negative connection between their product and the NFL, and close their wallets. That day is likely coming -- and probably sooner then fans want -- but, at this point, there aren’t many solutions. We’ll watch flag football and likely be happy with it. Ten years from now, we won’t even recognize this game.