The large payments the NFL has had to make to former players damaged by concussions and other poorly treated injuries has forced the league to make some concessions, but NFL officials and team owners need to do much more.
The opening of training camps is a reminder that there used to be an offseason for players. Now, there are multiple offseason workouts, though not usually in pads. The players have little time to rest either their bodies or minds.
In the old days, the season ended in December, the Super Bowl was in January (the Raiders’ first Super Bowl win was on Jan. 9, 1977), the draft came in February and then there was a break until training camps opened in July. Imagine.
Unfortunately for the NFL, that left baseball to dominate sports pages and TV screens (and, eventually, the Internet) for four months. So, the NFL moved the draft to April and set up the combine in Indianapolis. That spawned an industry of nerds like Mel Kiper Jr. to make predictions about the draft, often far off the mark but who’s counting?
Meanwhile, teams were setting up offseason workouts for veterans. There was a time when this would have been helpful because players didn’t work on their conditioning in the offseason. That’s not true of players today because there’s much more money involved. Most players are in offseason workout programs, either on their own or with professional help. They don’t need the teams to organize workouts. What they need is a break from the routine, so they can rest their mind and body.
Of course, the NFL owners and executives aren’t concerned about that. They just want to keep the publicity machine humming.
Concussions became such an issue that they had to respond, but even with that, they’re only treating the result, not the cause. Players are examined and, if they don’t pass, have to sit out at least one game.
But nothing is done to prevent concussions, such as changing the structure of the helmets. The old leather helmets of the 1920s were safer because they fit right on the players’ heads. Nobody wants to bring them back, but the present helmets would be much safer if the webbing inside were reduced. As it is, a player now gets two hits, the first when a player hits his helmet, the second when the helmet rebounds and hits his head again.
The uniforms they wear are also dangerous to players. Ever wonder why rugby players, in a very rough sport, have far fewer injuries — and seldom as catastrophic as football players? They’re not wearing uniforms, just shirts and shorts. In contrast, football players wear uniforms with pads of hard plastic, much like the material for building sports cars or boats.
I’ve felt some of them and I guarantee that, if you took one piece, you could knock somebody out by hitting him over the head. Football players are routinely crashing into each other with these materials.
At the high school and college levels, there have been attempts to limit the danger to players but the NFL is still tone-deaf. The publicity machine must keep running, no matter the cost to the players.