As concerns about brain injuries mount, the game of football has two choices: Change from within, or wait until outsiders impose changes on the sport.
That’s the belief of NFL referee Walt Anderson, who also serves as the officiating coordinator for the Big 12 Conference and said at today’s conference meeting that everyone within the football world needs to get on board with the idea that helmet-to-helmet contact simply cannot be tolerated anymore.
“The game is under attack and we will either change this culture from within or it will change without, from other people,” Anderson said, via Dennis Dodd of CBS.
In college football, the change from within means ejecting players who target opponents above the shoulder. In the NFL, it means 15-yard penalties, fines and possible suspensions.
Change from “other people” could mean elected officials, including the president: In 1905 President Teddy Roosevelt demanded that football change its rules to make the game safer, and in 2013 President Barack Obama said that he’s concerned about brain injuries in football.
But even if the president doesn’t plan to use the bully pulpit to demand that the game change, and even if Congress doesn’t plan to pass any laws to force the game to change, Anderson’s fear of change from other people could happen through the courts: Concussion litigation could cost the NFL a fortune, and litigation could make football too expensive for colleges, high schools and youth leagues.
So no matter how many players and fans oppose it, taking the helmet-to-helmet hit out of the game may be the right move not only for the long-term health of the players, but for the long-term health of the sport. And every time Walt Anderson throws a flag for a helmet-to-helmet hit, he believes he’s taking a small step toward keeping the sport alive.