Football's Problematic Love Triangle Of Big Hits, Concussions and Entertainment

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Football's Problematic Love Triangle Of Big Hits, Concussions and Entertainment
Al Bello/Getty Images
You're not alone if your initial reaction to this hit was excitement.

The NFL is hypocritical.

This surely is not a groundbreaking sentence. On television, radio and in print, this notion has been discussed for years.

The NFL's hypocrisy is not the league's fault.

Oh no, I feel the lightning bolts reigning down. I'm taking the side of the establishment. Let's hope I can make it through this article without getting electrocuted.

If I don't, I hope I reach my end with a rare, artistically beautiful sentence so I can be remembered fondly as a writer with the potential for greatness. That would be kind of cool, actually. Anyway, moving on.

Football by nature is a violent sport. We as fans are okay with this.

Actually, the reason an absolutely unwatchable Monday Night Football contest between Tennessee and Jacksonville out-rated the transcendent Cliff Lee ALCS performance last night may simply be due to the inherent violence of football.

At this point, a familiar counterargument is that football achieves higher ratings because it is a more exciting sport than baseball.

This is generally true, but what do you think provides the excitement? Don't say the constant action, because basketball has much more consistent movement than football. I don't think a regular season NBA game between, say, the Orlando Magic and the Charlotte Bobcats would outperform a playoff game featuring Cliff Lee and the New York Yankees.

Every time fans try to brush aside football's connection to gladiator entertainment with the obligatory, "Yeah, well, no one dies playing football" argument, I see more clearly the quagmire the NFL finds itself dealing with on a weekly basis.

Let me ask you, the anonymous reader: What was your immediate reaction to the hit Falcons defensive back Dunta Robinson delivered to Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson on Sunday?

If you're anything like me or the eight people I watched the game with, your reaction was to jump out of your chair and yell, "Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh what a hit!"

Only after both Robinson and Jackson laid on the ground for five minutes did we go, "Oh, wow, what a hit. I hope they're okay."

Unfortunately for Dunta Robinson, this is where his part of the story ends, because people playing fantasy football only care about offensive players.

What would your reaction be, Eagles fans or fantasy owners of DeSean Jackson, if Jackson passes the necessary medical tests in time to participate in Philadelphia's next game, only to be held out due to a new NFL safety regulation prohibiting players who suffered concussions from playing for a specific amount of weeks?

Don't worry, those feeling guilty for knowing your exact reaction to this hypothetical situation. Many of us would feel this way.

Fans in Philadelphia would riot if Jackson was held out for an important game, because the NFL would be hindering the Eagles chances of making the playoffs.

Bears fans in Chicago would go nuts if Jay Cutler wasn't allowed to play this past week against Seattle even though he passed the typical concussion tests.

Okay sorry, bad example. It would've been the same reaction by Packers fans with Aaron Rodgers last week though.

One cannot blame the players for trying to get back out on the field before they should. The hyper-competitive nature of the NFL makes it impossible for players to look after themselves. 

Only last year, Hines Ward called out Ben Roethlisberger for sitting out an important divisional game against the Baltimore Ravens after the quarterback suffered a concussion in overtime during the previous week's game, Roethlisberger's third in as many years.

If fans and coaches don't pressure players enough to get back on the field, teammates apply the final touches with peer pressure. Funny how we as humans can never escape that one, no matter how old we are.

Roethlisberger only sat out the Baltimore game because the medical staff for once stood tall. Had this particular concussion been Ben's first in a few years, one can imagine the pressure would have overwhelmed the team doctors, too.

Big hits in football are a huge part of the entertainment value of NFL games. Call it a desire to see bloodsport, a strange kind of vicarious thrill, whatever.

Clearly, concussions are a typical side effect of violent collisions in football. 

The NFL can talk about head safety all it wants, but if the league took proactive measures to increase the safety and maintain the general health of its players, the entertainment value of its product would potentially decrease.

Goodness knows the NFL, and all companies for that matter, will not do something that poor for business when there are no real consequences for talking a big game and delivering on nothing.

Due to its posting of warnings in locker rooms in the preseason, and its new threat to suspend players on the spot for head-to-head collisions, the NFL can throw up its hands when questioned about player safety.

"We're providing every precautionary measure we possibly can," the league will say.

Every precautionary measure, that is, except for holding players out when their brains have increased risk of accruing permanent damage.

Even though it's easy to shake our heads and raise a one-finger salute toward the NFL for not protecting its workforce, we might as well turn that salute around to ourselves.

Don't believe me? Pay attention to what happens the next time your favorite team's quarterback is listed as questionable for the upcoming game with a concussion.

If you think, "I hope he sits this one out because I would hate to see him get hit again and suffer another concussion. That would be terrible for his long-term health," then you're a more caring individual than most.

There are two solutions for the NFL in this situation. It can bite the financial bullet, take the hit from fans, and put forth mandatory sanctions against players performing with head injuries.

Or the league can continue to do just enough so that it can be reasonably stated the NFL cares about player safety.

I think we know which one the NFL will choose, and why.

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