Plenty of fans think that the move to make pro football safer comes from a desire to protect the coffers against future litigation filed by the players of today.
Falcons president Rich McKay, who chairs the league’s Competition Committee, addressed that concern during a Thursday visit to Pro Football Talk.
“Absolutely not,” McKay said, “it’s about protecting the players. I’ve been on the Committee for 20 years and it’s never been a discussion in our room of, ‘Well we’re worried about a litigation about this or a litigation about a knee injury.’ We’re worried about player safety and I think one of the great things about the league is it’s been a focus of ours for a long time and there’s such a long process that goes into it.
“People think that, well, there’s a Competition Committee, they take guys, and they come up with these rules. There’s such a long process. This is a rule we’ve actually talked about for a couple of years with the [NFL] Players Association, with the Head, Neck, and Spine Committee, with Coach Madden’s subcommittee, all of those things. So the reasoning behind these rules is, number one, the short-term health and safety of the players and, number two, the long-term health and safety of our players.”
McKay has no concern regarding the potential impact of enhanced safety rules on the long-term welfare of the game. At some point, could another league that promises “old-school” football with big hits and players willing to take the risks emerge to threaten the NFL?
“No, I don’t think so, Mike, and I’ll tell you why,” McKay said. “It doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be another league; obviously there could be at any time. But remember what football is. Football is the ultimate team sport and it begins at a very young age and we’re the leaders of that sport and we take the responsibility for that. So if we ever get the mindset that, hey, we have to leave this game as tough as it is and in some way we don’t encourage younger players to play our game then be assured of this, in time it will affect our game. It will have an effect and that’s something that we can never forget and that’s why we always say when we pass rule changes, we’re passing it hoping to force it all the way down to the littlest guys playing our game and so that everybody understands how safe our game can be.
“So the fact that somebody may decide to play ultimate football or ultimate whatever, fine for them. But in our game we’re always going to look out for the entire game, that starts from the little guys playing football, high school football, college football, and us because what’s made us great is that entire feeder system of that chain has made our game as great as it is.”
It’s a responsible and prudent approach, but the resistance from players and criticism from fans suggests that, eventually, a league that plays football “the way it used to be played” could pose a threat to the NFL’s future. Then again, if parents view the game as unacceptably dangerous, the supply of football players eventually will be choked off.