T Nation

Is Football Inherently Flawed?


I had an interesting conversation about this very topic over the weekend. I should preface all of this by stating that I am a huge football fan, so in no way is this the ranting of someone with a strong biased against the game.

Basically, is football fatally flawed in its current format and given (some of) our expectations for the game? I'm talking about concussions. It seems like every year players are getting bigger, stronger, faster and more freakish, all things that widely increase the game's appeal. Who doesn't like watching a 6'3" 260lb linebacker who runs a 4.4 40 chasing down a bowling ball-shaped running back with the ability to stop, start, accelerate and change direction like an all-wheel drive Porsche?

But the human brain is incapable of better handling the huge, violent impacts that occur on a regular basis. As the league becomes more and more concerned with the severity of the brain damage suffered by its players, is there any way that football can last without changing the rules drastically to cut down on these injuries, and will these possible changes "water down" the game to the point where it loses its appeal to us?

Also, given that there are only 16 games and there are literally millions and millions of dollars riding on the outcome of each one, is this another fatal flaw? Is the increasing emphasis on getting every call right placing an undue importance on the performance of the referees in relation to the players' performance?

Would football be better off if it revised the rules about tackling to the point where the big-time collisions we love to see are eliminated? Would it be better if perhaps the season's schedule was changed so they played twice a week under these new rules and played 32, maybe even 40 games, a year so that there isn't such import placed on each and every possible game-changing call?


I think the idea of regression in sports is laughable...because the only people who really want this either hate sports or they happen to be politicians who want the vote of the average soccer mom who is scared her son will lose his head playing after school flag football.


Allow implants and steroids.

Head implants and more sophisticated head gear will decrease concussions and who wouldn't tune in to see 2020's version of a running back with a bionic arm who is all of 5'10" but weighs a solid 310lbs with abs?


Please don't lump me in with the soccer mom crowd or the pro-regression in sports crowd. My children will never play soccer, no matter what.

But I disagree about your statement regarding who wants to see this happen. Sure, soccer moms and politicians with nothing better to do want to see changes, but so do A LOT of current and former players. I don't think they necessarily want to see the game watered down, but they do want to see improvements made in the ability to prevent and treat concussions, which is why a lot of former and current players are donating their brains to medical studies addressing these issues.

My point is, or my question is, is it really possible to alleviate these concerns in a satisfactory manner without "watering down" the game?


I'd be curious to know what folks thought of the plastic helmet and mask when it was introduced. Did they think it made you a pussy?

Godell that asshole is working on this as we speak, I fucking hate that guy, I really do.

I love defence and a strong running game so the rule changes would ruin the game for me.

My son played football for four years and there wasen't a game where they didn't have to call timeout so a kid could shake the cobwebs out. It was scary as a parent but he loved football and wanted to play, how can you say no.

Hockey, different story, if a kid went down it was because most likely his shoulder got hurt, NOT his head.


I agree that FB players today are definitely stronger and faster, but I wouldn't say they were bigger. Look at the players from the early to mid-90's where the majority of the OL was up around 3 bills and some of the RB's were up around 240lbs.

I think the problem with the concussions is the speed. These guys can fly, everyone has quicks that'll make your head spin and with more consistent playing surfaces like field turf there's often zero concern for footing and they can go balls out more often.

I don't think football will ever increase in games per season. That's what kills baseball and basketball and hockey for me. I don't really start paying attention till the playoff picture begins to take shape in those sports and I won't really sit to watch a game unless it's the playoffs.

Football is different because one loss could mean the end of the entire champoinship run, and I dig that kind of drama. Players have to go balls out more often if not all the time, coaches have to basically risk divorce every week to prepare. It's awesome.

What I do believe, very strongly, is that more of the money made in the NFL needs to be put into R&D of safety equipment and protecting players, if only to help avoid a scenario like you've proposed above.


Interesting discussion.

Personally, as the father of a 5 year old, I will not allow him to play football (and he's expressed an interest, but I will not cultivate that interest). Flame away.

I have some chronic degenerative neck problems and was seeing a neurologist for associated headaches. We were speaking casually about the football concussion issue and he was telling me that there is just no way to protect against it or, predict who will suffer. In other words, for someone, it can be one good hit, for another, it could be multiple hits. And it's not limited to football, it includes other contact sports (lacrosse was one my neurologist mentioned; his own son suffered 2 concussions playing) boxing, mma, rugby, and even "heading" the ball in soccer is now a known risk.

I don't necessarily believe it's the high-end vicious collisions that the average fan loves that's necessarily the problem, although those are inarguably dangerous. Just getting your bell rung is a risk and "getting your bell rung" probably occurs very frequently, including games and contact-practices.

Is the game getting "watered down"? Meh. We all know they are doing a lot to protect wide receivers and in reality, that was probably necessary. They are very vulnerable at times and you can still tackle the damn guy without trying to take his head off. They have shortened kick-offs in an effort to reduce the distance on returns, thus reducing the velocity of the players colliding over distance. And they will probably continue to make changes and I'm sure there will be equipment improvements as well. Will any of this stop the continuous "dings" to the head? No. Are the continuous "dings" to the head a problem? Apparently they are.

Will shortening the season help? Doubtful. A player coming up thru the pee-wee leagues, high school, college and then a few years in the pros has probably had enough "dings" where he'll either suffer the damage or he won't. They have seen the type of brain damage in very young players as well as the older retired players.

We all know football is inherently "dangerous". We can now add that football is a known risk for brain damage and will continue to be based on my understanding of the current medicine and science.


Lets outlaw:

  1. War..people might get hurt

  2. Baseball...someone might fall out of the stands or a player may get hit with a ball

  3. Play structures in Parks...Kids may get hurt

  4. Swimming....people can drown.......

More people are injured doing these and are not paid a salary.....where does it stop?


They have investegated trying to expand the roster and having to sit a starter at least one game a year.

If they water it down(defence) the points being scored would be outragous.

To answer your question I don't see how.


The problem with the vein this discussion is already heading is that it's not limited to a "concussion" problem. It's a head contact problem. Repeated blows to the head, even those that do not produce a concussion, can lead to brain damage. What one person can tolerate, the next may not. While one sufficient blow may result in brain damage to one person, another may be able to tolerate many more before suffering damage.

I guess this makes me a soccer mom because I will definitely steer my son to basketball, baseball, track, wrestling, etc.


I agree that the drama involved in a 16 game season is a major part of the appeal, especially for me.

But on the other hand, it also seems like games can hinge on the rule interpretation of a referee as much as it can hinge on anything a player does. That's what I hate about football. I don't want to watch the refs decide a game, I want to watch the players decide it.

It also seems as if the league has gone overboard with the rules in an attempt to legislate the game. I swear to God, they practically need Supreme Court justices to interpret some of these rules. I also don't think it's a good sign for any sport when they consistently have to make rules changes every offseason. If it's not broken, don't fix it. Or is it actually broken?


I definitely think they should do something to address the helmets both from a safety standpoint and prevent players from leading with their helmets(causing helmet to helmet hits). With that said pro football ain't for the faint of heart it is a physical and violent game. These guys know going in they are sacrificing their bodies and health for fortune and fame. The NFL should do everything it can to mitigate ill effects but it is football.


I like clean form tackles over big hits really.

No one wants to see "wrap and roll" or "dumpster arms", they want a dude head first in another dudes chest.

The money is in entertainment, not the sport anymore.

This is why teams SUCK at something as basic as tackling.

I can't stand the NFL anymore.

I love semi pro,college,and other organized forms of the game though....where entertainment takes a backseat to a general love of sports.


These are all irrelevant points.

  1. War: It bears no comparison whatsoever to a sport, and as someone with a cousin in the Navy SEALs who is risking his life as we speak in Afghanistan, I highly resent comparing war to sports, as I'm sure many of our esteemed veterans on this site do as well.

  2. Baseball: The fact that you would take this opportunity to bring up the death of a fan (whose own son watched him fall to his death) is disgusting. As far as players getting hit with balls, they are trying to alleviate that possibility right now. There is a huge movement to ban aluminum bats at the amateur level for this very reason. And I suppose you haven't noticed that players wear helmets at the plate.

  3. Playgrounds: Play structures in parks have been made much more safe. I am glad they have. ANYTHING that is dangerous to our children and can be made safer should be, for their sake. I'd rather raise a kid who was a Sally due to an "over-protective" mindset than not raise a kid because he died falling off a jungle gym.

  4. Swimming: Again, another pointless example. People drown all the time and there really isn't anything anyone can do about that. Can you ban swimming? No, that would be a violation of a person's basic right. It would be like banning walking down the sidewalk. But the issue regarding football has nothing to do with rights or anything like that, so swimming has no bearing on this issue.


I agree 100%. The cumulative effect is just as dangerous as one traumatic impact, if not more so. As we learn more about this, thanks in large part to players who donate their brains, the more and more parents will find themselves faced with a dilemma. Will you let your kid play a sport that represents as absolute a danger to their long-term health as football does? Or any other sport that carries with it the implicit possibility of a major concussion or the damaging cumulative effect of repeated blows to the head?

I don't have kids, yet. But when I do, these are questions that I'll have to face, and I think that these are questions that any responsible parent will also have to answer. I remember when I was 13-14 years old and started playing high school football. I also remember how much bigger the kids seem to be now when I was coaching a 13-14 year old baseball team. The kids seem to be getting bigger and faster, but their brains obviously can't make the same natural progression. So I don't think it's as simple as "well, I played football when I was a kid and I turned out just fine."

Besides, I DID play football as a kid and I'm sure half the T-Nation would say that I did NOT turn out fine.


Take away the pads and the helmets and the number of concussions will go down pretty quick. I know it's a part of the game now and I'm not REALLY suggesting it, but it's true. I played rugby, and you hardly ever saw a concussion or even a serious injury. Not saying it never happens, but it's not common. Mostly just dinged up a little bit. You're a lot more careful about how you hit someone when you don't have anything to protect you.


I'm more of a college FB fan as well, but there's a trickle down from the NFL that's worth the conversation since any type of FB is going to be affected by rules and safety gear that's introduced in the NFL.

Take the Horse Collar rule. Can't do it in high school anymore either, and it started in the NFL


Making new rules is easy. Easier than paying players more who'll demand exorbidant amounts of money to put their bodies at risk.

"Bitch, better protect me or fuckin PAY me..."


Really interesting thought... the more protected you are, the more risks you take.

At the risk of taking this way off topic it's always been interesting to me how football players caught on steroids pretty much take no negative PR hit, but baseball players are vilified. Very hypocritical IMO. Does anyone remember Brian Cushing's steroid use, even though it was caught only a year ago? The majority of sports fans could rattle off (with ease) 10 baseball players caught/suspected of steroids and at most 1 or 2 football players.


WTF are you talking about Cooper?


How old is your son?

Has there been consideration as to him, at say 10 years old absolutely BEGGING you to play football?

I have a 10 month old son, and I'm curious.

I played football through high school then played full contact for a few years in the Military. I think I'm going to find it difficult be "hands off" and let him decide what he wants to do because I know my tendency is going to be for me to steer him in that direction since that what I know and what I love. Know what I mean? His mom and I already decided to not let him suit up for full contact until he's in 8th grade. We'll see.

I don't want to hyjack this thread into a fathering debate, just curious.