Friday , 22 June 2018

Mike Albanese: Oh NFL, Where Art Thou?

mike albanese column mugOn Aug. 17, Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller was hit low by rookie safety D.J. Swearinger of the Houston Texans.

Keller’s knee bent horrifically, tearing his ACL, MCL, PCL and dislocating his knee.

Keller, who signed a one-year deal worth $4.25 million with Miami during the offseason, is gone for the rest of season after one shot during an NFL preseason game.

“With the rules in this era you’ve got to hit low,” Swearinger said in an article on Aug. 20. “If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play.”

And by the NFL rule book, the hit was legal.

Now, a few days earlier Chicago Bears rookie linebacker Jonathon Bostic squared up and delivered a picture-perfect tackle to San Diego Charger receiver Mike Willie.

The hit didn’t result in a season-ending injury, and the NFL even posted the video of the hit on its website as one its “Plays of the Week.”

Bostic, however, received a $21,000 fine because, in the NFL’s words, ““he used the crown of his helmet to deliver a forceable blow to the body of the receiver.”

Is it me? Or does something seem wrong here?

Now let me get this straight. One player can deliver a gruesome hit (of course, not intentional), end a player’s season and received no fine, while another can deliver a form tackle and get fined the equivalent of a game check?

The recent backlash by NFL executives, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, on these so called “illegal hits” has been, in my humble opinion, a drastic overreaction.

opinionIf we all remember, the hit that started this talk of illegal vs. legal hits was the hit to the knee that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took in week one of the 2008.

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Bernard Pollard went to tackle Brady low, and in the process, Brady tore his ACL and MCL.

The reaction following the hit was, in a word, absurd.

In 2009, the League drafted a rule to protect the quarterbacks – their moneymakers – stating a defender cannot lunge into a quarterbacks legs after being blocked to the ground.

Now, this rule came into effect not because of what happened, but because of who it happened to. It is safe to say no one, and I mean no one, would have made a remark about the hit, except, “Well, that’s football,” if it was Kyle Orton who tore his knee apart.

And now, there is a sudden outcry to ban illegal hits to the head and any hit where the league determines the defender “lunged” his body into a receiver.

Much of the chatter around hits to the head came after several NFL veterans — notably Junior Seau and Dave Duerson — passed away, many of which showed symptoms of brain injuries related to repeated blows to the head.

Duerson, who committed suicide in 2011, intentionally shot himself in the chest, apparently so that his brain could be donated for research.

Death, of course, is as serious as it gets. And the toll a player’s body endures during long careers results in devastating effects.

But players know the dangers of the sport before ever stepping onto the field. And the players of this era get paid exuberant amounts of money and most times squander their opportunities by getting in trouble with the law.

And now, not only does the NFL outlaw any contact above the shoulders, now they will monitor hits to the legs, and possibly take action on that.

So it bares asking the question, what part of the body is left for players to hit?

On Aug. 29, the NFL reached a tentative $765 million settlement for concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired veterans, agreeing to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and underwrite research.

Individual awards would be capped at $5 million for men who have or develop ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or another severe cognitive impairment; $4 million for those diagnosed with CTE after their deaths; and $3 million for players with dementia.

The panel determining the benefits will be independent of the NFL and NFL Players Association.

This lawsuit, which my many media outlets reported was almost dismissed early last week, is a step in the right direction for the NFL to mend the bridges that may have been damaged to former veterans, and veterans to come.

But the $765 million allocated to veterans in the lawsuit is equivalent to less than 10 percent of the League’s projected revenue in in 2025, which is estimated to be $27 billion.

So, a league, which is projected to make more than $20 billion by the year 2025, can only shell out less than 10 percent to veterans built the game to what it is today?

Something doesn’t sound right.

Football is not a contact sport. It is a collision sport.

Each play is a new set of collisions. A set of collisions that can end a season, a career or possibly a life.

Will a fat check help cure those wounds suffered by former players? No.

Will a fat check help former players, like former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Reggie Williams – who has had 27 surgeries on his right knee – be able to walk normal again? No.

Will a fat check help prevent injuries? No.

So in the end, the rule changes and the lawsuits won’t change a thing, except one thing – the play.

The play of the game will be diminished and watered down. And no, the game won’t turn into flag football like some are predicting.

But no more will there be highlights of warriors like Deacon Jones, Dick Butkis or Chuck Bednarik.

Instead this era of football will be remembered as the time when the game will be known not for the hits, the plays or the athletes, but instead, this era will be forever known for flags, for penalties, for fines and for when the NFL became nothing more than a sideshow and façade of its once glorious self.

You can’t take the physicality out of the game. But the NFL is surely trying.

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