Why Violence in Football is Actually a Good Thing
The NFL powers-that-be are ruining the game of football in the name of player safety. Rule changes on the defensive side of the ball, which were designed to overly protect offensive players, have inflated scoring to their highest levels since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
In fact, since the NFL zeroed in on player safety (2011-2012) they've seen the two highest scoring years in league history, in back-to-back seasons. Off the field, their work with concussions has been commendable, albeit a transparent attempt to cover their backside. On the field, brick-by-brick, the league is making the game safer and less violent by altering the way it has been played for over 90 years.
The league has attempted to alter play on the field in three separate ways regarding their rules: creation, modification, and elimination. On the creation front, it is now illegal to strike an offensive player in the head or below the waist, if that player is deemed defenseless by the referee. The emphasis placed on this particular penalty by the league office has resulted in a drastic increase in total penalty yardage surrendered. Last season just two teams (WAS, BAL) finished the season with over 1,000 total penalty yards. This season five teams are on pace to break 1,000 yards.
This rule, while well intentioned, fails to eliminate many of the illegal blocks committed by offensive players, including a vicious block on Houston Texans' linebacker Brian Cushing, which cost him the remainder of his season. This unbalance between offensive and defensive penalties is a major reason why this well-intentioned rule is hurting the integrity of the game. If the referees on the field called this penalty both ways and the league office levied fines on both offensive and defensive players equally, I'd be more inclined to view this new rule as a move in the right direction.
On the modification and elimination front, the league decided to move kickoffs up five yards in 2011, which resulted in fewer kick returns league-wide. At the time it wasn't clear why the league made the decision, but now it has become crystal clear that they feel kickoffs are a dangerous and expendable part of the game. The NFL's commissioner, Roger Goodell, has even entertained the idea of doing away with it altogether. The 2011 rule change immediately altered the game, cutting down kick return attempts and reducing kick return TDs from 23 in 2010 to 9 in 2011.
Special teams are an essential part of any winning team and to reduce and potentially eliminate them in the name of player safety is simply overkill. Many players break into the league on special teams and to eliminate the role would mean eliminating opportunities for players to prove themselves. Current NFL starters, including the Giants' Chase Blackburn, the Steelers' Antonio Brown and the Ravens' Brendon Ayanbadejo, all worked their way up by contributing on special teams.
League policies such as requiring third-party trainers on site, mandatory concussion testing and advancements in equipment technology will be enough to protect players from future injury. The NFL league office would also be within their bounds if they set mandatory waiting periods for players that team and league doctors determined have sustained a head injury. Boxing, while more violent, does not allow their competitors, nor their staff, to determine if they want to continue boxing. They have referees and third party doctors who make those decisions.
The NFL needs to be more aggressive off the field, not on it. If they continue down the "rule altering" path, professional football could be nothing more than glorified flag football in just a few years.