Whenever the NFL or NCAA adopts a new rule for the sake of player safety, the most common complaint I hear is, “They’re turning the game into flag football.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of flag football, which is still fun to play. In fact, I’d ask anyone who makes that comparison to actually go and watch a flag football game in person, and watch football as it’s stripped down to its fundamentals. There may not be any big hits, but there are still explosive offenses and big defensive plays.
It’s also important to remember that these rule changes aren’t being imposed just for the sake of watering down the game and making your older uncle angry enough to start yelling about the days of the Steel Curtain or Ronnie Lott. Rather, the game is becoming safer now than it used to be because, somewhere along the line, people in charge realized that players can play (and live) longer if everyone’s more responsible on the field.
On Tuesday, I read about a big breakthrough in brain injury diagnosis. The short version is that, thanks to advances in modern science, we are now able to test for CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy — in living people. Considering that scientists were previously able to study and identify the disease only in the brains of deceased people, this is a super-important milestone that will almost definitely have an impact on all sports.
So, yeah, you can expect even more rule changes in the future.
UCLA’s Dr. Julian Bailes announced that he’s getting ready to publish the results from a 20-subject study of CTE patients, like legendary Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett. Whatever he and his team found will change the rules and will change the way athletes all over the world are treated for head injuries.
The only real way to avoid contracting a disease like CTE is to avoid playing sports. For all of the backhands that diehard football fans like to levy on flag football, even the boys, girls, men and women who wear flags instead of full pads are likely to get concussions on the field.
That’s why I’d say it’s time to stop complaining about rule changes and added safety procedures “watering down” our sports. Things definitely aren’t what they used to be, but that’s for the better.
Sure, some of the changes that have been made are questionable in that they may not actually do anything. In the NFL, moving kickoffs up to the 35-yard line was and is a dumb idea. And, though it may be somewhat safer, the Heads-Up Tackling movement that the league promoted among youth football programs is not nearly as effective as traditional arm-tackling.
But, that’s small potatoes if the overall effect of making sports safer gives our athletes longevity. They’re playing these games, after all, because they have fun doing so, and to take that away forever at a young age would be depressing. I don’t want to write about a local high school quarterback or point guard having to walk away from the game forever because of concussion issues, and I would really hate to do a follow-up if he were to develop memory problems and brain damage.