Eliminate Kickoffs? The Mayans May Be Right
I’ve been concerned for at least the last couple of years that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell seems hell-bent on ruining the game I grew up watching. From playing fast and loose with the rules of due process during the entire “Bounty-gate” affair through fines, flags and suspensions for questionable hits down to the travesty that was replacement officials, Goodell has consistently demonstrated an indifference if not outright ignorance to the inherent nature of the sport of professional football. But nothing prepared me for the latest nonsense to come out of the league office.
Earlier this week, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coach Greg Schiano floated the idea of eliminating kickoffs in the National Football League under the pretense that more injuries occur in that aspect of the game. True to form, the suggestion has reportedly resonated with the overreaching czar of the league. Just the source of the idea was enough to cast it in a dubious light for me (Schiano was the one who drew Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin’s ire with his ‘Harry High School’ approach to the Victory Formation) but what he offers as an alternative to kickoffs is even more ridiculous. He proposes to give the scoring team possession of the ball on its own 30 yard line with what is essentially a ’4th and 15′ situation. That team would then have the option of going for a long first down or punting the ball away.
Chances are, most conservative NFL head coaches would choose to punt the ball but, theoretically while unlikely, it could present a team with a good offense the opportunity never to relinquish possession of the ball. Hell, the way the game is officiated these days, even a team with a mediocre offense could conceivably just throw the ball up and wait for the inevitable pass interference penalty. It would be like the football equivalent of the old NBA One-on-One contest where one player kept the ball until the other one stopped him.
Look, no one really wants to see a player permanently injured and the NFL under Goodell’s direction has already gone to great lengths to help insure the safety of its participants (though I would cynically argue that the league’s proactive stance is rooted more in its financial fortunes than a genuine concern for players’ well-being). But, at some point, common sense must weigh in with a cognizant recognition that football is at its heart a violent sport. Indeed, it’s a huge part of the traditional appeal of the game. Those who suggest otherwise are either deluding themselves or simply being hypocritical. Don’t believe me? Then I defy you to tell me the last time 50,000 fans showed up to watch a game of flag football. What football fan among us has never wished an opposing team’s star player knocked out of a game in order to grant our favorite team a better chance at victory? One need look no farther than our pop culture to see how we celebrate violence in our society. We may not like how that reflects upon us, but that’s who we are and it’s why football is the quintessential “American” game.
No one is forced to play football and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that repeatedly subjecting oneself to violent collisions could have a detrimental effect on one’s health over a period of time. Firemen, police officers and even crab fisherman risk their health and their very lives for far less monetary compensation. It’s a conscious decision that players have made for decades. While there are certainly tragic cases that give us pause, there are also many more that wouldn’t trade their experience if they could.
Frankly, I fail to see how executing a punt is so much more beneficial to player safety than is a kickoff. Given what’s occurred in the last couple of weekends, the NFL’s regard for player safety could be better served by providing greater counsel on their off-field behavior. Knowing that the elimination of kickoffs could potentially result in a reduction of roster spots for now unneeded special teams’ players, I would venture to guess that the NFL Players’ Association would have something to say about it too. The cynic in me might even believe that this is just a bargaining chip that Goodell is holding for some future negotiation.
The basic reality of professional football is that players get hurt. And they will continue to get hurt no matter what is done to prevent it. But, if the NFL is insistent on continuing down this path, it will mark the beginning of the end for me as a fan. And I suspect I am far from alone.