owners met Tuesday in Chicago to discuss one of their sport's most pressing issues: concussions.
Concern on the subject has slowly come to a head (no pun intended) thanks to research and doctor testimony, as well as the deaths of two former football players.
After a day of meetings, lectures, and "I can only imagine" some tough talk from Roger Goodell, the league settled on the following policy position:
Concussions = Bad.
The NFL acted quickly on the matter, as it has on every problem to threaten its image this offseason. Most notably, league officials agreed to encourage whistleblowing, or grownup tattling, to expose any doctors, trainers, or coaches who rush players back from head injuries.
No word yet on how tagbacks or jinx factor into the strategy.
In all seriousness, Commissioner Goodell and his colleagues received wide praise for their willingness to act. And deservedly so, for player safety should be priority number one in a sport whose stars put themselves at such great risk every week.
But all may not be so smooth down the road. While the media, owners, and players are on board, the concussion policy will undoubtedly irk some fans.
When a key player gets knocked around and has to miss important plays, or even games, you can be sure that fans are going to question the new rules. They may also question the player's toughness. Either way, they aren't going to be happy when a concussion costs their team valuable ground in the standings—especially when the same injury would have been ignored in years past.
That said, the NFL is doing the right thing here—and it shouldn't have to answer to the insensitive, superficial critics in the cheap seats.
"Medical decisions will continue to override any competitive decisions", Goodell said, relieved I'm sure to be discussing headcases not involving Pacman Jones.
The league owes it to its players to protect them, just as any company is obligated to protect its employees. Unfortunately, the reasonable basis of the new rules will be quickly forgotten by fans the moment a star performer is held out of action. And the NFL can't do anything about it.
The media, however, can.
More than anyone else, reporters, writers, radio hosts, and television personalities hold sway over storylines and hype. The onus will be on them to stand up for the league's policies when their listeners and readers won't.
The media is smart enough to know that the NFL has taken the right position on concussions—but it remains to be seen whether pundits will continue to take the league's side if popular opinion heads south.
When push comes to shove, it would be a shame if the media bought into fans' complaints just for the sake of a cheap headline. More to the point, it would be reprehensible to question the validity of a policy designed to protect players' lives.
Roger Goodell has set the league on a fair and morally-conscious road. Hopefully the media backs him up. Lord knows the NFL doesn't need any more headaches.