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Donnie Nickey tees off on kickoff rule

Tennessee Titans 2010 Headshots

We’re still waiting for someone (anyone) to make a persuasive, passionate argument in support of the decision to move the kickoff point from the 30 to the 35.  Meanwhile, a free agent who made his living covering kickoffs has made a persuasive, passionate argument against the change — and generally against the league’s efforts to make an inherently risky sport less so.

Former Titans safety Donnie Nickey, who currently is unemployed, thinks he’s unemployed in part because of the new kickoff rule.  And he thinks other men will lose their jobs because of it.

“In today’s economy industries need to be creating jobs,” Nickey told Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean via e-mail.  “In the NFL, the new kickoff rule is eliminating jobs.  The kickoff may as well be eliminated all together. For eight years I made my living covering kickoffs and I took pride in it.  The kickoff may be the most violent play in all of sports but is one of the most exciting and game changing plays as well.”

Nickey acknowledges that he has a vested interest in the new rule, but his points are still valid, despite the fact that roster spots are a zero-sum game, and that the change in the rule will actually create other jobs.  “The first sign of the kickoff’s extinction was the elimination of the four man wedge,” Nickey said.  “That eliminated the need for a wedgebuster, which is how I earned my job.  I think the NFL is destroying the true game of football and the physicality that America has grown to love.  For someone who has never played the game to make so many changes unchecked is criminal.  Paul Brown is rolling over in his grave because of all the changes made in the name of ‘player safety.’”

The core of Nickey’s concern relates to the ongoing effort to protect men who don’t want to be protected.  “People go to NASCAR races to see wrecks,” Nickey said.  “People go to football games to see long touchdowns and devastating hits. It’s an injustice to the game and the men who have made their living covering kickoffs and sacrificing their bodies to have their jobs made obsolete.”

That’s really the heart of the debate, as it relates to helmet-to-helmet hits or the kickoff return or any other longstanding aspect of the game that the league currently is (or eventually will be) trying to minimize or eliminate.  We’ve yet to see an NFL player retire due to fear of the possible long-term consequences of concussions or other injuries.  Now that the risks are fully known by everyone, why not let the men who play the game assume those risks, if they want?

Humans take risks all the time, for far less money than what pro (and some college) athletes earn.  Whether it’s because of that aspect of human nature that allows young men to assume nothing bad will ever happen to them or that permits them to not care, they want to play the game.  We don’t stop them from driving motorcycles or riding bulls or jumping out of planes or signing up for the military or climbing large rocks or taking a small boat down a raging river or hiking in places where large bears and other predators hang out or doing countless other things that could get them injured or worse.  Why has the NFL decided to try to force changes in the name of long-term health and safety onto men who now understand the risks, who have compared the relatively small number of historical bad outcomes to the many more former players who live productive, healthy lives for decades after retiring, and who simply want to play football?

We’d have far less concern about the issue if the changes were better engineered to ensure that the game will become safer.  Changing the spot of the kickoff simply removes bullets from the gun, and potentially makes the gun more dangerous when it’s used.  As to the broader issue of hits to and with the helmet, we’d simply like to see rules changes that are tied more clearly to intentional behavior and less to chance.

Either way, the league has glossed over the real issue.  The players now know the risks, so none of them can sue later and claim that the risks were concealed.  The players are willing to accept the risks.  So why is the league changing the game to protect grown men from a risk they’re willing to embrace?

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50 Responses to “Donnie Nickey tees off on kickoff rule”
  1. boneyardbuc says: Aug 23, 2011 7:29 AM

    I could be wrong, but I think the NFL front office and ownership are pushing this “safety” issue in order to give it up for an 18-game season.

    Football hasn’t become any more dangerous than it was in the 80s. In fact, its been emasculated slowly since then…

  2. igglesnut says: Aug 23, 2011 7:34 AM

    I don’t like the new rule, but that said, two points:

    1. The NFL may be eliminating specific guys’ jobs, but they aren’t reducing the number of total jobs. Each team still has a 53-man roster.

    2. The “Let the players assume the risks” arguments really only has any merit if those players will sign a contract where they agree to forego any right to sue in the future for any medical problems they encounter from concussions.

  3. foobarfoofoo says: Aug 23, 2011 7:36 AM

    Quoting Jerry Jones “If we are not going forward, then we are going backwards”.

    Change means progress … without change there is no progress.

    Just because this dude apparently can only do exactly one thing (which has earned him way over two million $ the past eight years), and apparently doesn’t want to change or doesn’t want to challenge himself to do something else, quite possibly on a football field, he is now out of his job. Whoa, I guess that has never happened to anybody with a real job before.

    DUDE, you are not out of a job because of the rule change or Mr Goodell, you are out of a job because of your mindset.

    Get over it.

  4. woodg8 says: Aug 23, 2011 7:38 AM

    He is completely right

    No one, and I mean no one, can say the kick off rule changes are positive

  5. godofwine330 says: Aug 23, 2011 7:39 AM

    Other than the new kickoff rule, which I and everyone else hate, I think the rule where the ball is spotted at the spot where the ball is kicked on a missed field goal instead of at the line of scrimmage. They said that it would increase scoring and more often teams would go for it on fourth down, instead, less coaches are taking a chance on a missed field goal and instead there has been more punts from the 30-40 yard lines.

    This rule needs to be repealed. Nobody seems to talk about this rule, but this rule has hurt football as we know it as well.

  6. twindaddy says: Aug 23, 2011 7:41 AM

    There’s at least two lawsuits that I know of in which former players are suing the NFL due to concussion issues.

    People who get lung cancer still sue tobacco companies even though there’s a Surgeon General warning on every box of cigarettes, and has been since before I was born.

    It’s all about liability. The players say that don’t care now, but after they no longer play some lawyer will talk them into a lawsuit.

    If the NFL can make standard contract language stating that they (the players) understand the physical risks they’re taking and will not sue at a later date maybe the NFL will change the rules back. The only problem is that player agents will likely advise their players not to sign a contract with such language.

    So this whole thing basically boils down to frivolous lawsuits. The NFL is just trying to avoid them. I don’t like the rule changes either, but at the same time I understand why they’re making them. Maybe this is something that can be addressed in the next CBA.

  7. timtheenchanter1 says: Aug 23, 2011 7:43 AM

    “The players now know the risks, so none of them can sue later and claim that the risks were concealed.”

    My god, this is naive. No wonder you’re an EX-lawyer if you think this is enough to absolve them of any legal exposure.

    And even if it was enough for players not to be able to win in court (which I doubt), the threat of bad PR and legal costs from a lawsuit of a former star player saddled with dementia (or worse yet, the widow of said player) is enough to make them consider settlements.

    It’s a sad statement of our current legal system but just because you can’t win a case doesn’t mean there isn’t sometimes money to be made in filing suit.

  8. Patriot42 says: Aug 23, 2011 7:46 AM

    As the country is regulating almost everything in our lives the league is doing the same thing to the NFL. No one is forcing anyone to play football and the dangers are part of the sport. If we eliminate all the danger it will dilute the sport to the point it will be flag football.

  9. larrydavidstern says: Aug 23, 2011 7:47 AM

    Either way, the league has glossed over the real issue. The players now know the risks, so none of them can sue later and claim that the risks were concealed. The players are willing to accept the risks. So why is the league changing the game to protect grown men from a risk they’re willing to embrace?

    Bingo!!!!

  10. bestfffff says: Aug 23, 2011 7:49 AM

    His argument is flawed. The NFL is not eliminating jobs. There will still be 53 men on a roster. He is just getting replaced by another player.

  11. vahawker says: Aug 23, 2011 7:50 AM

    So why is the league changing the game to protect grown men from a risk they’re willing to embrace?
    ********************************************

    Lawyers

  12. wiley16350 says: Aug 23, 2011 7:55 AM

    I believe there are lawsuits against the NFL by ex players because of injuries sustained while playing football. The NFL has to protect itself from these types of lawsuits in the future. So they are doing things that lower the risk without changing the game too much. So if the current players don’t like it then they need to blame the players suing the league or maybe the NFL needs to have the players sign waivers stating they won’t sue the league in the future for injuries sustained while playing. Honestly, I don’t care about this new rule because I like offense and I hate when teams win a game on special teams after playing a game where their offense was pathetic. If it was up to me I’d have it like backyard football, get rid of special teams all together. That way teams have to win on offense or defense by the players that play the majority of the game. Plus there are too many penalties on kickoffs and it gets really annoying.

  13. 12is3times4 says: Aug 23, 2011 7:56 AM

    “Either way, the league has glossed over the real issue. The players now know the risks, so none of them can sue later and claim that the risks were concealed. The players are willing to accept the risks. So why is the league changing the game to protect grown men from a risk they’re willing to embrace?”

    You’re forgetting one other constituency here that the NFL cannot afford to lose: The parents of the next-generation of would-be players.

    We can make the above argument until we’re blue in the face, and we’d be absolutely right. The trouble is that to publicly acknowledge football’s inherent risks is a complete non-starter with the league because of the message it sends to parents. Namely, that if you allow your sons to play the game of football, there is a chance they will end up brain-addled for the rest of their lives.

    The league can handle lawsuits. It can handle indignant Congresscritters. But if parents start deciding they will not allow their kids to play the sport, the NFL is rightly screwed long-term, because it has no defense against this, and it cannot survive without players.

  14. finsfrontofficeisajoke says: Aug 23, 2011 7:56 AM

    “Tees off” and “kickoff”. I see what you did there!

  15. thereisalwaysnextyear says: Aug 23, 2011 8:00 AM

    Three people were KILLED in airshows last weekend. KILLED. And they aren’t going to stop having airshows. I’ve never seen a sport that changes rules like the NFL. No wonder officials screw up and sometimes hesitate. How are they supposed to know the rule book cold if it keeps changing? Ridiculous.

  16. colonelcamp says: Aug 23, 2011 8:03 AM

    Why has the NFL decided to try to force changes in the name of long-term health and safety onto men who now understand the risks…

    —————————————————-

    Because these same men later sue that the NFL didn’t do enough to keep them healthy. Right or wrong, that’s the reality. CYA baby!

  17. brasho says: Aug 23, 2011 8:07 AM

    If NFL rules applied to real life, firefighters wouldn’t be allowed to fight fires anymore, coal miners couldn’t mine, police officers would never walk up to the window of a car they pulled over, a sheriff’s deputy would never knock on a door to deliver a warrant, teachers wouldn’t peform their craft in the inner city, surfers would never ride waves, cab drivers would only pick up old ladies, the Xtreme games would only feature one event-the pogo stick-but eventually that would become too dangerous as well…. this is getting out of hand.

    There are known risks associated with many jobs but the jobs don’t get eliminated, they find ways to make the job safer while still performing the same tasks. Safety equipment iin the NFL is poor, it needs to updated and implemented before wide-scale changes are made for the sake of safety that lessen the enjoyment of the game.

  18. daburgher says: Aug 23, 2011 8:15 AM

    Goodell is a tool… someone please put a Massaquoi jersey on him and send him across the middle against the steelers.

  19. keepitsimplestoopid says: Aug 23, 2011 8:16 AM

    I understand where he’s coming from, but I just can’t enjoy people getting knocked unconscious anymore. I’m not sure that I ever did, but it seems like it’s happening a lot more lately.

    Although not so much on kickoffs (e.g. Naaman Roosevelt).

  20. xtb3 says: Aug 23, 2011 8:17 AM

    league came up with some ludicrously derived stats to base this rule on. never stating what percentage of all injuries take place on kickoff returns only because that is the only rule they changed -kickoffs. and what percentage of all plays are kickoff plays. then how this 3 week invention means serious injury when we see 20 or more players on season ending ir each year per team and those are the “servere” ones.

    c/p espn yest

    The NFL changed the rules to protect players and reduce injury. These are the numbers they cite:

    •32.7% of injuries on kickoffs and punts were “severe” (defined as 21 or more missed days), compared to 19.3% on other plays.
    •20.3% of injuries on kickoffs and punts were concussions, compared to 10.9% on other plays.

  21. exboomer says: Aug 23, 2011 8:20 AM

    The reason the NFL is keeps changing the rules is one word MONEY. The owners consider players financial investments (which they are to a certain extent) and they will do whatever it takes to protect their investments even if it ends up hurting the overall product.

  22. monctonvike says: Aug 23, 2011 8:20 AM

    100% agree with the man

  23. prestigew0rldwide says: Aug 23, 2011 8:26 AM

    love this article.. really love the point made that the one making the changes is the one who never played the game. Its amazing how much easier it is to change something you dont fully understand from experience. This happens all the time in management at all levels.

  24. cliffordc05 says: Aug 23, 2011 8:30 AM

    Eliminating the kickoff would be better than what the league has done with this new rule. The beginning of the game is now boring compared to being one of the most pivotal moments in a game. If the kickoff were eliminated the first play of the game would be from the twenty. Kind of like a scrimmage.

    The new rule requiring a second look at every touchdown is stupid and slows down the game. It also makes the ruling and touchdown almost anticlimactic. Both of these rules are detrimental to the pace and excitement of the game.

  25. bluvayner says: Aug 23, 2011 8:32 AM

    No jobs are being lost. The roster size still remains the same and they still need players to cover punts. If he is out of a job, it’s either because he isn’t very good, he can’t do anything else to help the team, or his veteran minimum salary is now too high.

    Special teams players don’t have long career expectations, because those jobs usually go to younger, less expensive, developmental players. If you don’t eventually develop into a guy who can start for your team, your special teams job will probably be given to a younger guy who might eventually be able to start.

  26. pastabelly says: Aug 23, 2011 8:37 AM

    It is not as if there is such a long history of kicking off from the 30 yard line. It wasn’t that long ago when kickoffs were from the 40. One thing this does do it make a little tougher for the team winning the toss in OT to get a couple of first downs and kick a field goal. Now, there is a risk that if you go three and out, the team playing that solid defense sets its offense up to score.

  27. NFLJunkie says: Aug 23, 2011 8:38 AM

    I don’t follow NASCAR at all, and even I know about restrictor plates being required at certain tracks, especially ones with a history of the most violent crashes.

    This stuff about not needing to protect players from themselves sounds good and all, but the reality is if players want/expect the league to take care of them in retirement, including better medical coverage, then you can’t blame the league for wanting to find ways to limit the injuries and the long-term effects players are exposed to now.

    If Nickey wasn’t a 31-year-old safety never known for playing safety, he’d be more employable. Because the NFL is not downsizing. They’re just looking possibly for a different combination of skills at the bottom of the roster now.

  28. britishraven says: Aug 23, 2011 8:40 AM

    Are these the same risk-loving players that

    a) don’t want an 18 regular season because of increased risk of injuries
    and
    b) don’t want to practice almost at all at any point throughout the year because of increased risk of injuries.

    The very same players now complaining about it not being violent/hardcore enough are the same ones whose union demanded a massive reduction in padded practices and practice time throughout the season

    Personally I thought that getting rid of the ‘wedge’ was a good idea but the current 35yard kickoff rule is non-sensical.

    If the majority of players cared, why didn’t they include it in the CBA? The answer is, they don’t care and would rather that they aren’t exposed to the violent hits.

  29. thegrey7 says: Aug 23, 2011 8:41 AM

    I don’t like the rule either, but this statement is ridiculous:

    “In the NFL, the new kickoff rule is eliminating jobs.”

    It’s not like the NFL is employing less people because of the rule change. It’s just that players who only skill is special teams are being replaced by guys who can play regular positions too.

  30. cwt123 says: Aug 23, 2011 8:44 AM

    @brasho:

    You are absolutely correct. Let’s try to make the game as safe as possible but within the confines of the game. If it is changed too much, it won’t even be the same sport of football anymore.

  31. steelhammer92 says: Aug 23, 2011 8:49 AM

    It’s a shame they can’t get rid of Goodell already. Does anybody in the league actually respect him? Selig, Bettman and Stern may all get bad raps… But you don’t hear players berating them on a daily basis. In fact, you rarely hear it at all. Something must be wrong if a commissioner is getting criticized continuously for his negative impact on the sport.

  32. hineswardcriesafterfumbling says: Aug 23, 2011 8:56 AM

    I want to point out that the NFL Network has a commercial with Xfinity/Comcast showing nothing but kickoff returns. It speaks to the hypocrisy of the league; marketing/profiting off an aspect of the game that it’s simultaneously trying to eliminate.

    The NFL does not need a franchise in Europe or Canada. The NFL doesn’t need 18 games. The NFL needs a valid preseason.

    Everyone knows the risks of football the minute they sign up. The NFL doesn’t neeed to go out of its way to remind people it’s a violent game; a collision sport.

  33. homelanddefense says: Aug 23, 2011 9:05 AM

    while I agree that the rule is bad, he claim that in this economy we need to create jobs, and this rule is eliminating them is LAUGHABLE.

    The roster size is still the same, its not like the league said “Well guys you dont need to have kickoff coverage specialists so we reduced the roster size by 2″.

    His talents are no longer as valuable, so HE doesnt have a job, but there is someone in his spot on the roster.

  34. thereisalwaysnextyear says: Aug 23, 2011 9:05 AM

    I just wanted to re-post this person’s post. I wish I’d written this.

    brasho says:
    Aug 23, 2011 8:07 AM
    If NFL rules applied to real life, firefighters wouldn’t be allowed to fight fires anymore, coal miners couldn’t mine, police officers would never walk up to the window of a car they pulled over, a sheriff’s deputy would never knock on a door to deliver a warrant, teachers wouldn’t peform their craft in the inner city, surfers would never ride waves, cab drivers would only pick up old ladies, the Xtreme games would only feature one event-the pogo stick-but eventually that would become too dangerous as well…. this is getting out of hand.

    There are known risks associated with many jobs but the jobs don’t get eliminated, they find ways to make the job safer while still performing the same tasks. Safety equipment iin the NFL is poor, it needs to updated and implemented before wide-scale changes are made for the sake of safety that lessen the enjoyment of the game.

  35. seanb20124 says: Aug 23, 2011 9:06 AM

    Quit your whining, Barack Obama is creating jobs everyday. Get off your duff and get one. Jajaja

  36. Topher says: Aug 23, 2011 9:18 AM

    I know the NFL thinks “kickoffs are a dangerous play, we make less returns and we minimize the danger.”

    The problem I have is that kickoffs are not more dangerous than a regular play. More people do not get injured on kickoffs than on regular plays.

  37. sj39 says: Aug 23, 2011 9:19 AM

    A “job”? Really kick off coverage is a job? Sorry Donnie, I think that falls in the privilige catagory.

  38. cornernum23 says: Aug 23, 2011 9:24 AM

    Great artical.

  39. grndizzle says: Aug 23, 2011 9:26 AM

    I think people are making too big of a deal about the change. It wasn’t that long ago when kickoffs were from the 35. The returner should just stand 8 yards deep in the end zone, and if he can catch it with forward momentum then take it out. By November when the weather gets a little bit colder the ball won’t fly as far anyway.

  40. vdaigglesfan says: Aug 23, 2011 9:30 AM

    Oh Nickey what a pity you don’t understand…

    Maybe busting wedges for too long.

  41. doyousmellthat says: Aug 23, 2011 9:33 AM

    A number of rules instituted the past five years in the name of “player safety” are ruining the game. Namely this kickoff rule and the defenseless receiver rule. Good, clean, exciting footballs plays are being eliminated or penalized. This has really taken some enjoyment out of watching the NFL for me, and likely many others. The Donald Jones hit for example: it was a rough hit, but clean. The refs ruled Jones was defenseless, but why? Because he dropped the ball? If Jones caught the ball and then was separated from it at the last second, the Bronco defender most likely would have not been penalized even if Jones received the injury. Brady rule: can’t tackle a QB below the knees, even if that’s the only way to get to him. I don’t think anyone believes a player should deliberately take a shot at an opponent’s knees, but the hit on Brady wasn’t dirty. It was an attempt to make a tackle. What is the defender supposed to do, lie there and let the QB attempt a throw? Kickoffs are now being slowly eliminated. Why, because of the Kevin Everett injury? Sad to say, but if Everett had been using proper tackling technique and had his head up, he probably would not have been hurt. Pretty soon, kickers won’t be allowed to kick, and defenders won’t be allowed to defend. The outcome of the game will depend solely on the execution of the offense as they run around defenders who might as well be stationary garbage cans.

  42. ravenator says: Aug 23, 2011 9:38 AM

    So why are you unemployed again Donnie? Insider trading, hah, just joking. The kickoff rule isn’t changing this season at least. You should go find a normal job. Quit being a burden on society (and a 52 man roster).

  43. blackbug99 says: Aug 23, 2011 9:38 AM

    They will either punch it out of the end zone or short kick it. On a short kick they just gave the defense a 5 yd coverage advantage. So, maybe out of the end zone should go to the 30 now vice the 20?

    I guess if I want to see real hits…POP Warner/HS/College are my best bet!!

  44. bullcharger says: Aug 23, 2011 9:42 AM

    I think it’s a terrible rule change, but they did it because it was the easiest way to reduce injuries on kick off returns.

    It is self centered for this guy to think there was any intent to eliminate jobs. That’s just an effect of it… the importance of a few different roles are altered because of the rule change.

    That said, if safety was the issue then they didn’t need to change the kick off location. All they had to do was police the hits better and fine for anything illegal.

  45. marty2019 says: Aug 23, 2011 10:37 AM

    It’s not going to reduce injuries, it’s going to increase injuries. Because the kickoff is now 5 yards closer to the opposing end zone, teams will kick the ball higher and cover the kick. Hang time will be key.

    Last week on one kickoff, the Jaguars kicked it high, and the returner got tackled on the 10 yard line. I don’t know if they did it on purpose, but it was an eye-opener.

  46. fin72 says: Aug 23, 2011 11:10 AM

    This is strictly about Goodell trying to lower injuries to justify forcing an 18-game season down everybody’s throat. This guy is literally trying to water down the overall quality of the ticket-buyer’s product in order to line the owners’ pockets with 2 more games!

  47. clintonportisheadd says: Aug 23, 2011 11:55 AM

    Wrong Mr Neanderthal.

    Most folks (Raider fans can leave now) don’t go to games or watch them on TV in the hopes of seeing a Darryl Stingley moment.

  48. thingamajig says: Aug 23, 2011 12:25 PM

    “In the NFL, the new kickoff rule is eliminating jobs.”

    With that kind of thinking Nickey needs to run for Congress, he’d fit right in.

  49. The Grand Occident says: Aug 23, 2011 1:07 PM

    Roger is an effeminate sort of person.

    No kickoffs, no real hits, and soon… female referees!

    UFC is looking better and better as the real sport of America.

  50. seaclaws says: Aug 23, 2011 2:08 PM

    Medical Field advances have allowed the NFL and other organizations to understand what is happening to a human body that plays football much better then 20 years ago. Concussions and other injuries are much more understandable and can be more accurately gauged for short time and long time injuries. Knowing that there are serious risks of career ending injuries in football based on new understanding of concussions doesnt mean that men who play the game should have to constantly face these dangers, especially if there are ways to minimize these risks. All Sports Organizations try to minimize these injuries, first because its the RIGHT thing to do. Second for the men and their families and third for the fans. I dont want my favorite player to become paralyzed on some stupid play, and then all that you hear is he knew the risks. YOU work to eliminate as much as possible the risks to any sport. Donnie used Nascar as an example, NASCAR works hard on the safety element of their sport, probably more then any other sport does. They have changed the rules, ie Lucky Dog rules, they have changed the Cars and Equipment, and they have even changed the tracks adding more safety walls and barriers. They do it so that even if an accident happens the driver can walk away, and you dont lose someone Like Dale Earnhardt Sr.
    Football will always be a risky sport, It will have its scary injury moments, its wonderful runbacks, its hits and collisions, but through the use of better equipment, better Fields and yes changing some of the rules, If it eliminates some injuries and allows the players to play the next game, then not only is that a good thing for both the player , the fan, and the game of football, but arent we morally obligated to do so?

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