As the debate over NFL player safety suddenly erupted this week, Joe Paterno made an interesting suggestion on how to stem the problem at his weekly press conference Tuesday.
(Pro Football Hall of Famer Marion Motley: The Original Badass)
“I have been saying (it) for 15 years. Then, you would get back to shoulder blocking and shoulder tackling and you wouldn’t have all those heroes out there. Guys (would) have to worry about broken noses, knocked-out teeth, which we would like to prevent, but you don’t get anything for nothing.
“We used to have one single bar; now we have a weapon.”
Most will laugh off the suggestion, but as medical study results of brain injuries become more sophisticated, and eventually, indisputably conclusive, the NFL will eventually be backed into a corner about the future of the sport.
It might not happen this decade, but it will. Eventually.
So what will the league do?
It’s hard to imagine American football without facemasks, or as Mike Ditka also suggested this week, helmets, but if it is soon proven that the base activity of the sport results in irreparable brain damage that can lead to early death and other diseases, like ALS, what other choice will the NFL have?
Even if the NFL and major college football make no equipment changes in the face of verifiable proof that the sport significantly reduces life expectancy, the percentage of parents who will allow their children to play the game will likely plummet.
There’s plenty of folks who shrug off head injuries as a “hazard of the sport”, but what if youth football participation collapses?
With the amount of money at stake in this debate, no one expects the NFL to make drastic equipment changes until the league is absolutely forced to. That will take multiple, conclusive studies and accompanying widespread media coverage.
But based on the recent debate regarding head injuries, which I think is connected just as much to the public’s latent guilt over embracing such violence as it is in affecting on-field play, the NFL may be underestimating the public’s willingness to accept drastic changes to the game so many of us have grown to love.