Gladiators No More

I grew up playing football with my brothers and friends and I remember playing for hours on end in backyards or front yards with no equipment. “Kill the Guy With The Ball” was a great game and from the age of 8 to the age of 19 including two years of playing ball in college, I loved the strategy of the game and how it was tied to being physical.  I remember practices where the coaches would have us work on tackling and we were constantly smashing against each other for two plus hours.  What was great about the experience was that it wasn’t about the hitting-yes, that was a huge part of the game, but it was about playing as a team and executing the game plan and beating down the team across the line from you for four quarters.

For the past few years, the NFL has been instituting rules that take away the very nature of the game and the fact that it has nothing to do with the game itself is the worst part of it all.  Like everything else in our world, the game has been tied to revenue as the first and foremost goal and the game has become a recreational spectacle that is now essentially the Gladiators without their armor and swords.

When the penalties are being called for hitting a defenseless player, I have to tune that out and now you are starting to hear it in the voices of some of the commentators during the games.  Listen to a Sunday Night or Monday Night NFL television broadcast and you will hear it more than once I assure you.  The result is that the game is being taken away from the player’s and coaches and being put in the hands of the referee’s.  Pass interference or a high hit has become an offensive play that extends drives and changes field position with one bad call.  I can’t count the number of hits this year that have been by the book and have still been called a penalty.  It is shameful to watch.

The poster child with the bulls-eye on himself now is Brandon Merriweather, the hard-hitting safety from the Washington Redskins who in a locker room interview basically said the only spot left to hit an opposing player is at the knees and to take them out (paraphrasing).  Well you would have thought he sent Anthrax to the NFL offices the response he got.  He was threatened with severe consequences if he followed through with it and he was suspended two games for hits last week that to me looked like someone playing a football game.

Injuries are a part of the game and it seems every year they get worse and the rules the NFL puts in to make the game safer are making the game harder to play and not making a large enough impact on safety.  We still see guys going down with Achilles Tendon tears with no impact involved, same with some of the ACL tears and other knee injuries that take place.  That is because it is part of the game and always will be.

First it was the horse collar tackle, then it was hitting the quarterbacks low, and then it was helmet to helmet to contact and now it is hitting a defenseless player.  Now there is only a two man wedge for the kick return team and soon it will be hitting a running back who has the ball and driving him backwards to the ground.  What about the hit last night the put Aaron Rodgers out of the game?  I could have sworn that the player was intentionally trying to drive him into the ground! Fine that Guy!

Pretty soon it may be time to close the coliseum and send the Gladiators home because there won’t be a reason to show up and watch flag football.

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