Wednesday, July 20, 2011

About Time

TigerBlog Jr. will be attending a high school that does not offer football, which is just fine with TigerBlog.

In the past, TBJ has played tackle football, on the Pop Warner level and the last two years on the middle school lightweight team, where he was a 105-pound right tackle and defensive end.

TB would stand on the sidelines and watch these games and have the same thought run through his head: no concussions.

And yes, TB realizes that the sport that TBJ plays by far the most, lacrosse, can also have concussion-causing plays. In fact, arguably the best defensive player on his summer team has had to miss the entire spring and summer seasons due to two concussions.

And yes, life requires taking certain risks, sometimes in the name of playing football.

Still, every parent TB has spoken to who had a son who played youth football who is not playing football in high school is, like TB, just fine with it.

Somewhere along the line, football has grown from being violent to being dangerous.

The reason is simple: There is too much glorification, on TV and in video games, of crippling hits rather than of proper tackles.

In fact, very few people actually tackle anymore. They either launch themselves as hard as they can into the person with the ball, hoping the sheer force of the blow will knock the man to the ground, or they are cornerbacks who have no interest in tackling if they can't knock the ball down or intercept it.

All of this has been condoned and encouraged by the mass media. When was the last time anyone saw a highlight of a perfectly executed tackle, rather than a crushing shot that was laid on a receiver?

It's been years.

If you watch highlights of games from 30 years ago or more, you'll see almost no helmet-to-helmet shots. What you'll see is gang tackling, eye gouging, biting, knee-targeting and all the rest - but not helmet-to-helmet shots.

The emphasis on the player-as-missile way of playing the game has had as big an impact on the sport as anything ever has. Couple this with the fact that no sport in this country has ever been more popular than football is now, and you could see how the players and the owners who are raking in the money wouldn't want to do anything that might mess with that.

Oh wait. Of course, except for having a lockout over nothing other pure greed. But as far as making the game safer, nope.

What if rules were changed to make it seem like the league was trying to dial down the carnage? What if fans didn't respond to them? Then what would happen to the money?

All of this brings the Ivy League's new football rules, announced today, to the forefront.

When the Ivy League takes a unilateral stand on an athletic-related policy, the usual reaction is that the rest of college sports will not follow. Instead, the BCS conferences are more likely to go in the other direction.

This time, though, it might be different.

TigerBlog didn't read the entire report that is on the Ivy League webpage.

Still, he read enough to know that the league is serious about taking the lead in making football a safer sport to play.

In the New York Times article about the changes, Harvard coach Tim Murphy had this telling quote:
“If we want young people to continue to fall in love with this great sport, we have to protect the athletes.”

The rules changes might not be significant, as going to two full-contact practices per week might not actually alter teams preparation plans all that much. In fact, it's hard to believe that there are too many teams who use the full five full-contact practices per week during the season that the NCAA allows. What would be the point?

What the Ivy League is mostly doing is acknowledging that there's a real problem that needs real attention paid to it. It's attempting to change the culture of the sport, by making those who play it and coach it constantly pay attention to the core issue.

In doing so, it'll become standard operating procedure to limit - or even eliminate - head shots. It won't just be lip service that is being paid to the problem; offenders will face real, legitimate consequences, as referees will be even more vigilant in flagging those who violate the rules.

The key piece is to move past the accepted belief that he violent collision is the best part of the game, the one that drives the interest in football.

It's not the case.

The problem is that addressing this makes it seem like those trying to effect change are trying to "wussify" the sport and that they don't understand that it's only for "real men" to play.

The reality is that professional football right now has an epidemic when it comes to head injuries, among both current players and retired players, many of whom are dying way, way too young.

And, of course, those playing on the lower levels of college and high school imitate what they see as how the game should be played. And very few of them will ever earn the millions that are part of the tradeoff.

Somebody needed to do something to make the first step in the right direction.

Maybe the Ivy League has done just that.

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