Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tackle football. Phased out?

It's not likely, yet there are those that would advocate it. The recent elevated awareness on injuries has some people second guessing.

Some small town in South Carolina has taken the first step. They've eliminated tackle football until kids reach the age of 12. Sounds reasonable enough. When I went to grade school, back when one of the Roosevelts was President -- not sure which one -- it was a long time ago -- or maybe it was a Harrison -- we didn't even HAVE tackle football until junior high school. At least the organized version. Even pick-up games on the playground at recess were rare.

We must keep little Johnny or Joanie's precious body intact until they at least reach puberty -- right? But not everybody even agrees on that. There are many kids, and parents that would let them, that wish to play tackle at such a tender young age. And who is anybody else to tell them no?

Yet yours truly thinks tackle football at all levels will NEVER be phased out. Sure, I get it. It's a violent sport and sometimes tragic injuries can occur. Or symptoms can manifest later (from too many hits on the head) which result in any number of terrible outcomes down the road. Throw in broken bones, shredded ligaments and the like, and it can be downright dangerous.

But here's the thing. While kids at the high school level might not comprehend, or care, about the risks involved, does anybody really think "Friday night lights" is going to be abolished -- ever? There are towns, thousands of them across the nation, that LIVE for this stuff. Not just the players, but classmates, parents, alumni, and everyday citizens in the school district would scream bloody murder if high school tackle football went away. And no, flag football would not be a reasonable alternative.

Certainly by the college level the young men know they can get hurt, but to some of them being good at football is the ONLY way they're ever getting to college. They play with the dream of....

Ultimately making it to the NFL. Only the very best ones, creme da le creme, will. Far less than 1%. Not even one per entire school district on average. And it's certainly not just the university players, coaches, and fans at stake if tackle football disappears. For many schools, football is a HUGE source of revenue. Not just the fans attending the games, but TV money and paraphernalia sales are in the millions.

Can anybody for one second even imagine college football going poof? It would be a disaster. Not going to happen.

Of course, most of the serious injuries we've heard about lately come from the NFL. It makes sense. Though the players are highly conditioned, at least most of them, and have the best equipment possible, these guys are faster and hit each other much harder than at the lower levels. Things are going to break and unseen damage is inevitable.

But let's get real. The pros make a lot of money and they go into this field fully knowing they're going to get banged, bruised, and possibly worse. Nobody makes them do this. In fact, the competition to get to the NFL is ferocious. For every one that makes it, there's at least another hundred that wished they had.

To boot, there are many other activities people "stand in line" for hoping they get a chance to participate in that can be hazardous to their health. Try race car driving. Or being a firefighter. How about boxing? The whole intent of the game is to beat the opponent senseless. Brave souls attempt to climb mountains all over the world. Sometimes bad things happen. Should we outlaw that too? Cops would seem to be a necessity but they can, and sometimes do, get killed doing their jobs. It goes with the territory as they say.

The thought of the NFL folding up due to safety concerns is laughable. There are 32 franchises out there generating billions of dollars every year that provide employment for countless thousands of people. Not just the players. Staffs from waterboys to scouts to secretaries to accountants to lawyers to who knows what else?

Take away the NFL and a lot of people suffer. It's the bread and butter of TV people. They pay billions just for the RIGHT to televise games. Local bars will be packed on game days by rabid fans watching it on the flat screens. No football means a serious loss of business.

Owners compete with each other to see who can build the next shiniest, glitziest mega-palace for their teams to play in. Occasional tractor pulls and geriatric rock concerts aside, it's always seemed illogical for these behemoth stadiums to sit unused far more than they're in "session". That another thing that has always been weird. Why do teams have to have a separate "practice facility"? Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to just practice in the stadium where they play?

Add up all the above and tackle football isn't going anywhere. It means too much to too many people. Though the NFL has tried to "water down" the game, hence making it "safer" with various rule changes, it will always be violent. People will get hurt. It the nature of the beast.

Sure, concussions and worse are a concern. But to think for one second contact can be taken away, such as flag football, and the fans will keep coming and rooting in droves for their teams is pure fantasy. Ain't gonna happen. That would be the equivalent the NASCAR boys and girls out of their regular rides and replacing them with some sort of "nerf" cars. How well do you think that would go over with the left turn gear heads?

As has been mentioned in this space before, for all the better equipment and rule changes, there's always been a better way of cutting down on head injuries. For the most part these occur when players lower their heads and use them as battering rams -- right?

So keep everything else the same but cut the top off the helmets to expose the top of their heads. That would make them straighten up, on both sides of the ball, at least the ones that wanted to live through the game. Hit as hard as you want boys but lead with your head at your own peril.

As Hannibal used to say -- what a great show -- I love it when a plan comes together.

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