Bernard Pollard changed the landscape in the argument of NFL player safety yesterday, giving insight into what one of the hardest-hitters in the league thinks about the new, "safer" direction that Roger Goodell is trying to implement.
In doing so, the Ravens' safety highlighted the vast difference between the desires of coaches and the commissioner in addition to basically comparing NFL enthusiasts to barbaric gladiator fans, saying,
I think with the direction things are going—where (NFL rules makers) want to lighten up, and they’re throwing flags and everything else—there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it... The league is trying to move in the right direction [with player safety], but, at the same time, [coaches] want bigger, stronger and faster year in and year out. And that means you’re going to keep getting big hits and concussions and blown-out knees. The only thing I’m waiting for…and, Lord, I hope it doesn’t happen…is a guy dying on the field.
I guess recalling the punishment he inflicted on Patriots' tailback Stevan Ridley during the Ravens' AFC Championship victory is really weighing on Pollard, as this is a deep topic to delve into just a week before the Ravens' second Super Bowl appearance of the 21st century.
Pollard maintains that the NFL will not survive another 30 years of change, but fails to make it clear as to whether he believes that is due to fans "get[ting] fed up" with personal fouls or, God forbid, "a guy dying on the field".
Regardless, it seems that Pollard went a little overboard in his commentary, and while a tragedy such as a death on the field could further change the outlook of the game, freak accidents occur in every sport, lending that the NFL, by far the most popular sport in America, is here to stay.
Here are five reasons why...
As mentioned in the introduction, accidents happen.
Take Bernard Pollard's hit on Stevan Ridley as an example. It was "clean" by all accounts, as Ridley seemed to lower his head before the collision, leading to helmet-to-helmet contact.
More important to this discussion, however, is the fact it was ruled clean by NFL officials, standing in the face of Pollard's "excessive flags" talk.
While Pollard's argument focuses more on the future, insinuating safety precautions will have to be continually implemented to account for the evolving athlete, there is little debate as to whether the average fan thinks player safety should be an utmost concern of league officials.
While a death on the field would be tragic, you don't see Brazil banning nightclubs or people refusing to party in the wake of a much more catastrophic event.
People understand accidents happen. It's the nature of the beast.
People also understand these athletes are paid highly for their dangerous contributions to entertainment.
As Pollard notes, "[NFL players] understand what we signed up for, and it sucks."
It does suck, to some extent, but these guys are living out their dreams, playing in a professional arena unbeknownst to the average man.
Some people would kill for the opportunity to play for even a league minimum contract offer.
At the end of the day, bankers bank, lawyers litigate, doctors operate, and football players play football. Unless America experiences a massive cultural change—which isn't completely out of the realm of possibility, I suppose—people will continue to choose playing football over other career avenues.
As I mentioned, the money is too great, the fame is too tempting, and at the end of the day, there's no guarantee of safety or injury one way or the other.
Simply stated, there's way too much money in the NFL, both in playing and owning, for it to flounder.
No matter how the game evolves, NFL owners will still need an expensive hobby and college football players will still want to fulfill their dreams of becoming an NFL athlete.
Not to mention the economic effects of NFL franchises on both their respective cities and interstate commerce. While teams are often located in large, metropolitan cities, there is no arguing the economic benefits of an NFL franchise.
Will a looming safety concern, or even a tragic on-field death, really be enough to end a 35 billion-dollar industry? It's hard to fathom.
The demise of the NFL is greatly exaggerated.
Among Pollard's comments was this line:
"Guys are getting fined, and they're talking about, 'Let's take away the strike zone' and 'Take the pads off' or 'Take the helmets off.' It's going to be a thing where fans aren't going to want to watch it anymore."
C'mon, Bernard! There is no legitimate movement to do away with pads and helmets.
While there may, and should be, a genuine concern with equipment safety and finding ways to make the game as safe as possible, no one is calling for fundamental reform in terms of rules or equipment.
He could be right about the NFL's fate, but this comes off as more of an overzealous guess than an actual prediction of the future.
Look how far the game has evolved from the days of leather helmets and wishbone offenses.
It seems apparent that advances in technology over the next 30 years will go a long way toward making the game safer.
Anything is possible with modern science, so who's to say a lighter, denser material, or a material that more aptly absorbs shock, can't be used for helmets and shoulder pads, potentially revolutionizing the game?
It just seems short-sighted to assume we've reached the pinnacle of sports technology when we honestly probably haven't scratched the surface in terms of what's possible.
Teams could be playing in bionic suits in 30 years, for all we know.
One thing is for sure, though. Football is here to stay.
Will the game evolve? Sure.
Will it progress/regress beyond where we ever imagined? Maybe.
Still, there will be football.