With the start of the NFL season this weekend I can almost hear the sound of red-blooded American men (and women!) collectively chanting “Halleluiah!” Thus it’s a perfect time to put forth my solution, albeit a controversial one, to save the league. Save what?! The NFL has millions of totally gonzo fans that plunk down billions of dollars. (NFL grossed $11 bil last year.) The NFL also hosts the Super Bowl, the premier sporting event this side of the World Cup. So is this Neworth guy crazy, or what?
As it happens “crazy” may have been what the Captain of a seemingly indestructible ocean liner said about some flunky shipman muttering about a blip of frozen water way up ahead. Welcome fellow passengers of the NFL Titanic to what the tip of the iceberg looks like.
Perhaps the NFL’s main problem, other than pot and domestic abuse, (note never the two together) is concussions. We all thought the player’s lawsuits and new rules outlawing helmet to helmet contact would make the problem disappear. Sadly, it’s not quite that easy.
A concussion is not just getting your bell rung on a Sunday afternoon and spending the next few hours trying to remember your name and why you’re standing in a stadium filled with screaming people. Unfortunately, it has long term and devastating consequences. These include chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, headaches, slurred speech, psychosis, depression, dementia, and memory loss. (But other than that, what’s the big deal?)
Now imagine you’re on a highway and some clown, who thinks DUI is just a government agency, is driving straight at you. Which would you prefer? Mr. Blotto at the wheel of a Smart Car or a giant cement truck? Concussion is another word for a high-speed collision and the greater the size, the greater the impact.
While the league has gotten bigger every year, so have the players. And bigger players mean more serious injuries. Twenty years ago, it was somewhat rare for a player to weigh 300 pounds. But today more than 500 players were listed at that weight or more on NFL training-camp rosters.
And these players aren’t just big, they’re massive. Picture sumo wrestlers with cleats. Scripps Howard compared mortality rates for pro football players with Major League Baseball players who have died in the last century. Guess what? Football players are more than twice as likely to die before age 50. Asked to speculate, experts noted that football players generally are heavier than baseball players. (Duh.)
“When you get that big — regardless of whether your body is muscle or fat — your heart is stressed” said Penn State’s Dr. Charles Yesalis. “I fully support a weight limit of 275 pounds. It would reduce injuries and have a positive effect on the short and long-term health of these men.”
Don’t throw your Doritos or beer bottles at me just yet, I’m not for setting weight limits. It really isn’t necessary. All you to do is go back to the single platoon system. Wait, don’t rush off to the crossword puzzle, let me explain.
In today’s football players sit out half the game. As it turns out, much more than half. With two platoons, free substitution football, players spend about as much time in actual action as you do microwaving your frozen pizza. (Okay, maybe a little more.) What I’m suggesting is that if you make players play both offense and defense you’ll see weight go down like one of Oprah’s crash diets.
I know you love the game you grew up with, but if you can just cast your eyes for a minute outside the box you can see how odd the sport has become. It’s so specialized with freaks of nature (and steroids) that players only play a very few minutes and then they’re gasping for oxygen. In the end, the game is often decided by a soccer player who can’t catch, run or throw as opposed to “iron man football” where the top-conditioned all-around athletes, playing on both sides of the ball, were the stars.
If you’re a sports purist, do you really want to see a batter who can’t catch or field? Or an NBA defensive specialist who shut downs his man but can’t hit a shot to save his life? Or a 400 lb. heavyweight who’s got a great right but is totally gassed after one round?
I can hear the groans (and fear the flying Doritos) that “single platoon is ancient history,” and “how can we go back to that?” Well if you’re about to speed over a thousand foot drop, unless you’re Thelma and Louise, hitting the brakes, turning around and going back is the only thing that makes sense.
Jack also writes “Laughing Matters,” which appears every Friday. He can be reached at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth or firstname.lastname@example.org.