Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

01 May 2017

The Future of Football

Really interesting longform feature over at SB Nation asking how football can change over the next few years in order to reduce concussions and keep the sport going. Spencer Hall has a couple of points I particularly agree with. One, that change has to come at the high school level even more than the NFL level, because high school football is how most people play the sport. Second, that widening the field and the end zones to CFL dimensions to spread out players further and prevent more constant contact in the trenches could be a good compromise to keep football a contact sport while reducing concussions.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 01 May 2017

77 comments, Last at 25 May 2017, 6:14am by Lebo


by theslothook :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 1:33pm

I think a nice solution would be to cap the number years a player can play in the league.

by Jerry P. :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 10:52pm

That doesn't sound very labor friendly, comrade.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 2:02pm

"Second, that widening the field and the end zones to CFL dimensions to spread out players further and prevent more constant contact in the trenches could be a good compromise to keep football a contact sport while reducing concussions."

The two plays with the most player field spread are kickoffs and punt returns. Aren't we trying to ban those for being too dangerous?

by dryheat :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 2:24pm

I'm pretty sure those plays are most dangerous is because of 21 guys on the field sprinting at each other at top speed, not how the players are spaced before the toe hits the ball.

I think the other option to achieve this result would be to remove a player from each side. Although I'm sure the owners would push for the widening, as that would give them cover to ask for new stadiums.

by TADontAsk :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 2:30pm

I would follow that second point by asking what CFL concussion data is like compared to the NFL, because yes, giving these players more space to get a running start before a collision seems like a bad idea. All I saw in the article was that there wasn't a lot of CFL red-zone concussion data.

by Alexander :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 3:14pm

The #1 way to reduce concussions, special teams aside, is to allow d-backs to hold WRs between the hashmarks. WRs over the middle is dangerous for them and for the defenders.

The NFL will not do that because safety is just an excuse for them to implement pro-offense rules.

by Winterguard78 :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 8:11pm

My understanding is the opposite of that, in that regular, lower impact head trauma of the kind lineman on both sides of the ball smacking heads 40 or 50 times per game from peewee league to the NFL is the leading cause of concussions (or maybe it's CTE), as opposed to the big hits, although they certainly cause concussions. I read somewhere that the trauma to the head in the course of a pro-level game on the line is equivalent to a couple major car wrecks. I can't really think of anything that isn't solely cosmetic to fix the problem that wouldn't turn the game into flag football beyond helmet technology. The NFL literally prints money and benefits financially on everything from taxpayer funded stadiums to a minor league/talent pipeline with no costs. Since we have had the technology for almost 50 years to safely send people to and from the lunar surface, I have a hard time believing that if money were no object that the league could spend whatever it takes on R&D whether that's hiring top minds in different fields out of top STEAM schools to offering huge grants or prizes and start up capital to qualified inventors, they could create a truly safe helmet. And then offer it at cost or even for free to high schools and colleges.

by Theo :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 4:24pm

1: Tackle technique.
2: force to wrap up.
3: think that concussions only happen to offensive players who get the blow. The defender delivering the tackle or running into the block has the same future.

1: Right now, almost every one puts their helmet/head in the ball carrier.
Even at lower levels this leads to 'headaches'.
The simplest way to make the game safer is to go back to the tackle technique that rugby uses and the Seahawks have done for the last few years. (youtube seahawks tackle to see what I mean).
Sure, it will miss some tackles, but the same amount as the missed tackles by the "head in front" technique, where you over pursuit the runner.

2: There is a 'town beef league' in the US. (youtube town beef) It's an NFL Street style kind of league where no one wears pads or helmets, but it's still full contact.
The major rule is to 'wrap up'. If you tackle without a wrap up, it's an automatic flag.

by nlitwinetz :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 11:57pm

I have been saying this for years. All they need to do is make "hitting" illegal. Force players to tackle instead.

by LondonMonarch :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 8:29am

Does this work with the running game though? If there is wrap-tackling isn't the runner more or less guaranteed a yard or two after contact?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 8:44am

1. Rugby, quietly, has its own concussion problem.
2. The NFL originally opened the field up in the first place to alleviate the problems rugby-style tackling and scrums created. Rugby tackling works less well in the downs-and-restarts based play of American football. It just tends to create trench fighting in its place.

by MJK :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 11:57pm

Could technology help? Put a sensor in the crown of every helmet. If the sensor detects the crown of the helmet hitting something, it flashes a light or sends a radio signal to an official or otherwise alerts the refs. Automatic 5-yard penalty (offsetting if players on both teams trigger their sensors), increasable to a 15 yard personal foul if the refs judge that the player lead with the head intentionally.

Heck, it works for enforcing penalties in Olympic fencing!

Yes, there's be occasional "unfair" penalties where the player couldn't control things and hit with his helmet crown by accident. But I guarantee you that coaches would start to demand good tackling form from their players, and I think the number of crown sensor penalties would drop to very low levels within a year.

by Bucs_Rule :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 9:03pm

The NFL reducing concussions has NOTHING to do with making the game safer for players. It is so parents of children will think football is safe for their children to play and school districts will keep football going.

NFL players are aware of the dangers and choose to play due to making millions. Lawsuits against the NFL for being dangerous aren't worth worrying about as the players are aware of the dangers and consent to them. The settlement that the NFL made was about them covering up information on the dangers of concussions, not for the concussions themselves.

Colleges offer scholarships and players believe they're close to possibly making the NFL and they're old enough to consent to the risks as well. Most players on college football teams aren't close to the NFL, but each player believes they will be the one to make it.

In both NFL and college, football is huge money maker. This isn't the case for high school football. If lawsuits happen over a kid who dies, the school district doesn't have economic incentive of huge revenue to fight lawsuits like college or pros have. Parents have the power at the high school level and below. Making the game safe for kids is most important as this is the point where parents can stop children from playing. Once they get to college and pros, nothing parents can do about it and too much money is at stake.

by Jerry P. :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 10:50pm

I agree with what you are saying about the parents having control and needing "reassurance" from the NFL everything will be okay but I bet that more people get shot at high school football games than get permanent brain damage from actually playing in the game.


The first 4 results are 3 different games in the span of a week.

by Steve in WI :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 1:22pm

I would take that bet. Very few high school athletes die of a brain injury caused by football, and comparatively few experience concussions with severe and obvious symptoms. But based on the growing research into CTE, it seems plausible that large numbers of kids who play high school football are having their brains damaged.

by Aaron Schatz :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 11:28am

This is an interesting point (post 8) and not really related to the actual sport of football and safety on the field. Jerry guessed that we would delete the argument that followed, and he was correct. We do have the "no politics" rule for a reason. This is not a website where we want to be hosting discussions about inner-city crime, and we do not want our readers to be attacking each other with name-calling. We also don't want nonsense phrases like "virtue signaling." Don't be a schmuck.

Not every discussion here has to be about football analytics. But we do want to limit this website to talking about football.

by galactic_dev :: Mon, 05/01/2017 - 11:16pm

Am I naive to think that helmets need a redesign? I'm no engineer, but if you put some stiff styrofoam layer over the top of the current helmets, it could prevent them from being weapons and add shock protection.

Can someone improve my thinking here?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 8:47am

I'm sitting here in my office, looking at three separate helmets that had an external pad over a plastic shell. None of them survived the 1960s. The why is a little sparse, but I have my ideas. And it wasn't a standards-thing -- those came around in the mid-70s.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 9:41am

Putting padding on the outside makes them likely to be "sticky" on impact - you'll probably decrease head injuries slightly, but increase neck injuries drastically.

by Arkaein :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 11:28am

What if it reduced head injuries drastically, but increased head injuries only slightly?

I've seen your idea before, but it's all conjecture and very little data, at least that I've seen. Unless we can quantify the change in injuries of both kinds, and assign relative risk factors, we're not being very scientific.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 10:50pm

"but it's all conjecture and very little data,"

It's not. We have millions of datapoints in the motorcycle helmet, and bicycle helmet fields. Soft shelled helmets aren't an improvement.

by MJK :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 11:54pm

Actually, exterior padding or soft helmet shells would likely not reduce brain injuries at all. They would probably make them much worse.

There are two types of motion that injure brains--linear acceleration (think of a lump of dough being dropped on a counter) and rotational acceleration (think of putting English on a billiard ball).

For the same amount of kinetic energy, rotation is much worse than linear motion, from the standpoint of how much deformation/stretching it puts into brain tissue (and therefore presumably how much it damages the brain). Not only is rotation more efficient at stretching/tearing neurons, but rotation affects the entire brain instead of just the local area of impact and the point on the brain opposite the impact. So rotation is more of a problem than linear motion at equal energies. Counteracting this fact is that most impacts have most of their energy in linear motion, which is why padding helps.

But note that padding only helps address linear motion. The most padded helmet in the world won't reduce brain tissue damage if your head is whipped around quickly.

Anything that will increase the friction between obliquely colliding helmets will tend to transform more impact energy from linear acceleration to rotation, which is bad. Imagine two lubricated steel ball bearings hitting each other obliquely versus two soft, sticky rubber balls. Which impact will impart greater spin to the balls?

Riddell and other helmet companies are learning this. I believe Riddell has recently debuted a new helmet at the HS level that includes a "slip suspension"--esentially a skull cap inside the pads that is designed to slip relative to the pads and the outer shell--allowing impacts that would normally induce head rotation to rotate the helmet without rotating the head (as much). Other organizations and helmet manufacturers are working on the problem as well. Our lab, for example, was looking into the concept of using micro-engineered structures to create a helmet pad that would absorb shear (i.e. rotation) as effectively as it absorbs linear impacts.

But even a miracle helmet will not eliminate the problem. It's actually possible to concuss a player with no head contact at all. I saw it happen a couple of years ago--a WR was blindsided by a safety from the side, went down, and was pulled from the game due to concussion. On replay, you could see that nothing ever contact his head--not the safety, not the ground, not his own pads. As he went down, his shoulder hit the ground and his head whipped sideways but didn't actually hit the ground. It was the sideways rotation that concussed him.

by drobviousso :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 3:00pm

First, thanks for the great response. Second, this sort of thing happened to my second grade son last week. Rough-housing at recess (totally within the norms of a second grace recess), he got pushed backwards and his shoulder / upper back landed on a hard piece of equipment. His head whipped around and he got a concussion.

by Lebo :: Mon, 05/08/2017 - 5:19pm

Yeah, but doesn't that all assume that the soft shell helmets have a non-smooth surface? If the surface was smooth, then rotational acceleration wouldn't be an issue.

I don't think that a surface that is both soft and smooth is beyond the realms of materials science.

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 05/08/2017 - 9:04pm

If it deforms (as soft substances tend to do), it doesn't matter how slick the surface is. The entire deformed area grabs whatever it deformed around. This is basically the worst idea possible.

by Arkaein :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 5:24pm

If you can point me to an actual study I'd like to see it.

My impression with regard to bike helmets has always been that hard shelled helmets are more durable, more expensive, and better for severe collisions. Softer helmets are usually cheaper and less durable.

I'm not sure the use cases are really comparable. A riding helmet is designed to save your life or protect against serious injury from a single collision, usually with metal or concrete. Football helmets are designed to protect against repeated collisions.

A football helmet that protected better against accumulated sub-concussive impacts would prevent a lot of brain damage, and isn't something you could learn about from riding helmets.

by Mr Skinner :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 1:29am

Get rid of helmets.

by dbostedo :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 9:19am

That's a common suggestion, and I'll add my common reply... Helmets came about because people were dying of broken skulls on the field. Getting rid of them could lead to that again.

Getting rid of helmets, together with a change in the way the game is played, could possibly be a workable solution; But just getting rid of helmets altogether won't keep people from smashing their heads into other heads, knees, etc. There's just too much opportunity for high speed collisions.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 1:40pm

Not that this is representative of rugby in general, but my kid was playing in a soccer tournament a few years back, and there was a rugby match going on in an adjacent field. Us parents were on the sidelines watching soccer, and suddenly there was a big commotion on the rugby field, and somebody was shouting for a doctor. I was sitting next to the parents of one of my son's friends, and they're both doctors, one of them specializing in emergency medicine. They ran over to help and the mom came back to grab, in her words, "a pen you don't want back", because she had to use it to basically try to keep the guy's tongue out of the way to keep his airway open. An ambulance eventually just drove onto the field and took the guy off, and I'd heard from a friend who worked in the hospital he went to that the guy had a serious head injury and was never going to regain full functionality.

Yeah, that happens in football as well with helmets, but is someone actually suggesting getting rid of helmet is going to improve the future of football? That happens once on a high school football field, and football goes away forever. Using a helmet as a weapon when diving forward is a bad thing. Not having a helmet is an even worse thing. The idea of getting rid of helmets to make football safer is as completely and patently insane as can be.

by rj1 :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 3:43pm

We could ban players that lead with their helmet from ever playing again I suppose.

by rj1 :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 12:08pm

I referee rugby in the U.S. and have just finished up playing my 8th season as an adult. I've discussed in a thread before with Aaron Brooks regarding tackling and I'll just say we respectfully disagree. New standards have come down from World Rugby regarding the head and tackling, and I'm using those now in the high school games I referee. I'll let Nigel Owens, one of the top referees in the world, explain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbaz1uE3aNs

(watch the Owens video by the way and realize this applies to all referees globally, this is the downside of football governance being compartmentalized where the NFL, NCAA, NAIA, the national high school federation, largely don't talk to one another)

My thoughts as a lifelong football fan:

-college football's targeting rule needs to be implemented in high school and the NFL, I know it has its issues, I don't care, fix the issues and keep the rule

-Looking at high school football, my club hosted playoffs this weekend and my ooach who has helped coach the U.S. Under-19 national team before was on the radio talking to a local sports guy, and it went to how our youth scene in the area has really grown. He was saying how he loves football and used to play it, but when introduced to the game he says you're given a helmet and pads and told to "go hit people". There's little actual coaching around the tackle and it naturally advantages people that have no talent other than they're bigger than those around them. I don't know if you're required to take classes to be a football coach like you are in rugby because of the lack of a strong central governing body of the game in the U.S. (Does USA Football require every person that wants to be a football coach in this country to take a football coaching class? I don't know, but I'm guessing the answer is negative.), but we don't even let youth rugby players do tackles until they hit 7th grade/middle school rugby (we have "touch rugby" clubs beginning at 2nd grade), because we want to teach them how to tackle first.

by Steve in WI :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 1:24pm

I think the most obvious prediction to be made about the future of football is that fewer and fewer athletes are going to be funneled into it, and those who do are more likely to come from a socioeconomic background where they view football as their way out. I have heard the comparison to boxing...at one point it was a very mainstream sport, and now fewer people follow it and it's a much smaller group of people who enter the sport.

Certainly if I was a promising athlete who was also talented in basketball or baseball, it would be an easy decision to pursue those over football.

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 05/08/2017 - 9:16pm

The decline of boxing is much more complicated than this--not allowing clips to be shown on tv, for example, played a large role.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 2:34pm

How would removing unlimited substitution and going back to playing both ways change the game?

Generally there's an argument that players are more likely to get injured when they're tired / fatigued.

But, if players have to play both ways they won't be running as fast or be as powerful at the end of a game so some of the collision forces will be reduced.

And also if they have to learn to play both ways, they'll be less skilled at certain positions which could lead to more broken plays/scoring etc.

by rj1 :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 3:40pm

You'd also reduce the size of NFL rosters by half, so the NFLPA would threaten a strike over such a maneuver.

by joe football :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 4:05pm

I'm a big fan of less specialization, but it would probably lead to more violent collissions as teams relied more on the running game as specialization benefits passing more then running. People like Brady or Brees, for instance, could not really be hidden if they had to play on defense(which would be really cool because some old immobile guy standing around mostly stationary dictating the entire game kind of sucks but eliminating that isn't the aim of the article). Even if you could agree to let the QB only play one way, you'd still end up with substantially less skilled ballhandling players at other positions

Of course, if you're making this radical a change you can probably change other things to make passing with less skilled players more attractive. I guess I'm thinking mostly of the professional or high level CFB here, in HS a lot of your best players already play two ways and it doesn't make as big a difference

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 3:19pm

"Second, that widening the field and the end zones to CFL dimensions to spread out players further and prevent more constant contact in the trenches could be a good compromise to keep football a contact sport while reducing concussions."

taxpayers to the rescue! shiny new stadiums for every owner!

The standard is the standard!

by rj1 :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 3:39pm

Actually it may not be too bad with some stadiums now being built for soccer. If you've ever watched Canadian university football (CIS), the fields still fit inside a 400-meter track width-wise, although the corners of the endzones are chopped off due to the track's curvature.

Here's a picture of Soldier Field (on the smaller ends of NFL fields I think) trying to fit a rugby field in when the USA hosted New Zealand. You can see the shadows of the NFL lines. http://www.chicagonow.com/how-to-make-it-in-chicago/files/2014/11/IMG_41...

by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Wed, 05/24/2017 - 11:08am

interesting pic. thanks.

would be fun to know how many other stadiums could do it. even as shown, that's a tight fit on the sidelines.
The standard is the standard!

by Lebo :: Thu, 05/25/2017 - 6:14am

Yeah, would be very tight given that each sideline in an NFL game has circa 50 people (including tv cameras, chain guys, refs, etc.).

by Mello :: Tue, 05/02/2017 - 10:05pm

I feel like the country is going nuts, so it's probably just me. I don't get how this fear narrative has been so built up around concussions and especially in relation to football though. I look around me and see a society with millions of people that played football from peewee level on up and the vast majority of them are living lives as well as the rest of us. There's been no study to show that playing football at even up to college level is detrimental. Even at the NFL level players on average live longer than the general pop. But there is obviously an increased risk of mental problems to players that have played that long. And we've long known that football takes a heavy physical toll on players. That's probably improved quite a bit over time, but everyone seemed to be OK with those risks a few years ago.

And yet this is reason for everyone to freak out and change the very nature of the game? We ask people in a lot of other careers to take greater risks for a whole lot less money and it's a-OK but with football it's suddenly unacceptable? Why has no one except a few players challenged this narrative?

The NFL completely failed when it hid information it had. And they completely deserve to be sued to oblivion over it. But why can't we focus on improving equipment, changing a few rules, and being tougher on unnecessary helmet to helmet contact? Why the need for the extreme changes we've seen like penalizing and fining players just doing their jobs for making incidental contact that will inevitably happen in the game of football? Or even worse, this absolutely insane targeting rule college has implemented?

I think part of the problem is that unlike international sports, there's no real organization tasked with protecting the game of football. There's the NFL who only cares about their short term money and the CFB which has similar interests. And they've taken this opportunity as an excuse to increase scoring and causal viewers.

by rj1 :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 8:21am

"I think part of the problem is that unlike international sports, there's no real organization tasked with protecting the game of football. There's the NFL who only cares about their short term money and the CFB which has similar interests. And they've taken this opportunity as an excuse to increase scoring and causal viewers."

This should be a key takeaway, the game has no central governance so no one is tasked with protecting the game/making universal rules recommendations. Part of this is the NFL and college football will never give up control of their own turf...but that also means they can do nothing with high school and youth football.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 10:34am

The actual driver of football rules is the NCAA. That's the default rulebook. They pissed off the high school authorities and the NFL sufficiently that they eventually abandoned the NCAA rules, but that's the nominal rulemaking body.

Now, as far as the joys of centralized authority, does FIFA to anything to protect soccer, or just protect the financial interests of their governing body? How many dead workers is Qatar up to?

by rj1 :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 12:43pm

"The actual driver of football rules is the NCAA. That's the default rulebook. They pissed off the high school authorities and the NFL sufficiently that they eventually abandoned the NCAA rules, but that's the nominal rulemaking body."

They're not the rulesmaking body by fact if other organizations playing the game have their own rules.

The fact of the matter is the game of American football is so fragmentized that the people that control the various levels of the game cannot respond in a quick collaborative matter to any problems or issues that come up. The NFL and college football are both dependent on high school football turning out players for free to ensure that both their systems can live into the future. If the NFL and the NCAA want the future of the sport dictated not by football people but instead school system superintendents that can care less about the gameplay as long as their school district does not get sued, they have no right to complain in the future.


"Now, as far as the joys of centralized authority, does FIFA to anything to protect soccer, or just protect the financial interests of their governing body? How many dead workers is Qatar up to?"

The rules of soccer are not controlled by FIFA. They're controlled by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Football_Association_Board

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 1:15pm

"The rules of soccer are not controlled by FIFA. They're controlled by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Football_Association_Board"

Something of a meaningless distinction, given that half the IFAB is FIFA.

Incidentally, NCAA soccer doesn't adopt the IFAB rules (although it mostly adheres to them). This is essentially an identical position as the NCAA relative to NFL rules. You're not going to find slavish adherence to international standards in anything American, and you're lucky to find consistency from state to state.

by rj1 :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 7:53am

"Something of a meaningless distinction, given that half the IFAB is FIFA."

Your argument technique is amusing to read.

They require 6 votes out of 8 to pass anything.

"Incidentally, NCAA soccer doesn't adopt the IFAB rules (although it mostly adheres to them). This is essentially an identical position as the NCAA relative to NFL rules."

That's also why NCAA soccer is looked on as a bit of a joke and Major League Soccer started up their own professional development academies about a decade ago.

You can also have different rules for multiple forms of the game in the same rulebook. My Laws of Rugby book I take with me to matches when I referee has sections in the back with rules differences for 10-a-side, 7-a-side, and Under-19. There's no reason you can't have a common rulebook from the NFL to college to high school to Pop Warner, and then have sections differentiating them.

"You're not going to find slavish adherence to international standards in anything American."

I'm not talking about slavish adherence to international standards, you're creating a strawman so you don't have to acknowledge the point. I'm talking about all stakeholders in the American game coming together to create their own standard so they can tackle the game's problems more effectively and quickly and necessary rules changes are implemented at all levels of the game instead of having to pass the same rule change in 4 to 5 different bureaucracies. Otherwise, don't complain to me in 20 years when the game is removed from their control (again) by some politician wanting to make a name for himself because the game's stakeholders are viewed as incompetent and unwilling to take necessary actions.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 12:26pm

Here's the thing: there aren't just 4 or 5 stakeholders in American football. There's closer to 60.

There's the NFHS, which writes high school rules. Those have to be adopted the 50 individual states. Texas and Massachusetts don't adopt them -- they use modified NCAA rules. In some of the adopting states, they only apply to public schools -- private schools have their own rules.

Even at the college level, you've got two separate rulemaking authorities -- the NCAA and the NIAA.

At the pro level, the parallel professional leagues have never used the entire NFL rulebook, and this completely ignores Arena league rules. (This is more easily argued as a variant sport, though)

Then there's the peewee leagues. CYO teams don't use Pop Warner rules, etc.

So if you want to homologize all of this, you need to get 60-100 stakeholders involved, not 4-5. You can see why this becomes an enormous undertaking when removed from a centralized autocratic context.

by rj1 :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 4:34pm


You and the 60 stakeholders don't complain to me in 20 years when the game is removed from their control (again) by some politician wanting to make a name for himself because the game's stakeholders are viewed as incompetent and unwilling to take necessary actions.

by ChrisS :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 4:54pm

Football is a career and as you say many careers have risk. But at its core college and pro football are Entertainment. What level of risk are you as a customer willing to accept from your perfomers? Most other careers that are dangerous result in a somewhat useful/needed product or service. I think boxing offers something of a corrollary as it was hugely popular prior to the 70-80's but an increased distaste for the risks to the participants helped lead to its diminishment.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 3:10am

I always thought the reason boxing diminished was down to having about 9 different world governing bodies and leaving free-to-air TV channels and making it pay-per-view.

The latter being the reason why sports like golf and cricket* are now also beginning to find themselves in a popularity crisis.

* UK perspective.

by Jerry :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 4:40am

I think both points add up to why boxing has declined so much, which I'll sum up as having gotten away from the common man. There are now less damaging avenues for the kid who's athletically-inclined to pursue, while the exceedingly high prices for both tickets and pay-per-view make watching it inaccessible to people who aren't extremely interested. (There are also very few local cards by comparison to, say, 50 years ago.) It's not that long ago that heavyweight championship bouts were huge deals; now I neither know nor care who the champ(s) is/are.

by BJR :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 9:48am

Floyd Mayweather is still the richest athlete on Earth. And only last week 90,000 people watched Joshua and Klitshko fight at Wembley stadium. So I have to believe there is still huge appetite for top level boxing, when the top talent and personalities can be persuaded to square off against each other.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 10:09am

Indeed. My point was that while boxing has diminished I'm sure it's mostly down to accessibility not people having a moral dilemma about watching two people punch the crap out of each other.

I'm sure there are some people who won't watch because of the violence but generally it makes no difference to the majority. And I think it's the same when you look at football with its injuries and concussion.

If anything people don't enjoy the big hits being removed from football - heck those Giants/Bears/Eagles/Raiders/Steelers/Cowboys teams of the 70s/80s knocking the snot out of QBs/WRs/RBs was a sight to behold.

But equally I'm doubtful many people have stopped watching because of the hits being removed.

by BJR :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 10:55am

People only watch boxing because of the violence. Seeing those two enormous, highly trained men hurling punches at each other last week knowing that one lapse would mean a KO (and potentially worse) was frightening, but equally compelling and exhilarating.

The NFL is obviously more nuanced, but people still enjoy the violence. The average fan almost certainly thinks Tom Brady gets too much protection these days. The risk to the sport would be if young athletes are discouraged from taking it up because of the dangers involved.

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 10:53am

stopped watchiggn big tiem boxing when my father's descrambler bnecmae non-effective,. it was fun for good decade of getting $50 fights for free. occasionally still will watch boxmning cahmspions shopws on cbs or fs1 but I am not gonna pay $50, $60 for card that mgitbn turn out as crap. worst thing is some lame match with some guy holding whole time and crying like that weird Oliver guy vbs Lebnox lewis I think it was. Or you get first riound knockout in main event. can rerally end up being waste of money

by BJR :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 10:59am

Yes the top notch fights are few and far between, and I rarely pay for them. Too many mismatches, or overhyped grudge matches between average fighters. But, when the good ones come around the are still darned popular.

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 11:10am

agreed and I still enjoy boxing whereas mma is just nto my cup of tea.

football, baseball, basketball, boxing si my order with vbaseball realy close to football at times even prefer baseball. drop off to basketball and another big dropoff to boxing and then massive drop off to whatever sport I would put fifth.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 1:12pm

What are your thoughts on athletics, women's beach volleyball, tennis, golf, soccer or cricket RJ?

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 3:39pm

athletics- nto sure what is meant there

women's beach volleyball- don't; really care for it. will watch some during Olymnpics but prefer inside volleyball

tennis- don ot like it easpecially women making sex sounds when they hit the ball. I have a friend who actuilaly likes that. his ex-girlfriend banned him from watching women's tennis because of it.

golf- like to play it. find it a chore to watch. willl ocassionally watch the last 20 minuites of a big event like the masters or us open

soccer- enjoy world cup and that is about it

cricket- never watched

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 4:01pm

Brilliant ... I knew I could rely on you to give a fun account of at least one of those ... and tennis it was.

Athletics ... track & field ... sprints, marathons, mile running, shot putt, discus, javelin etc.

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 05/05/2017 - 11:00am

sprintes- no interest unless there are nice ladies to look at during Olympics. I liked that oen from mississippi in last Olympics and the one with first name of English

martajhons- no interest

mile running- no interest- not much of fan of watcghing people run or see hwo is faster

shot put- no

discus- some guy throwuing dinner plate around would be cool if was breaking it against wall or something. in high school for two summers in row, me and a few friends would collect beer bottles in woods and break them under train bridge against the concrete platform. very fun times,. also did some funny graffiti like "----- ------ in sex for one" or "Alex ---- and Kate ---- forever" and it was funny because Alex was a dork and Kate was one of the hot popular girls. My best friend didi the "----- ------ in sex for oen" as payback for that kid not dropping him off by his house after tennios practice becuase hehad to rush home to "do something". But anyway I think in rela discus it is some guy throwing plate on a field. I don't think it breaks. so it is not fun. Fun is seeing plate or bottle break. plus, the sound is good too.

javelin- no interest. might be nice to actgually do it. do know I did so in gym class in high school a few times. was okay at it. found no viewing pleasure in it

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 05/05/2017 - 11:54am

More brilliance.

Guess you won't be watching Nike's attempt to break the 2-hour marathon tomorrow :)

by ChrisS :: Fri, 05/05/2017 - 11:10am

Just watched the Klitscko Joshua fight last night. It was pretty darn good.

by rj1 :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 7:52am

Football is not a career for more than 99% of the people that play the game in this country.

by RobotBoy :: Fri, 05/05/2017 - 3:10am

'Even at the NFL level players on average live longer...' is a red herring. NFL players live longer because they had much higher fitness levels and medical care, and much more money, than most Americans. You can live a long time with CTE, if you don't kill yourself in the early stages from depression before you turn into a drooling vegetable.
In a recent, large-bore study, 40% of retired NFL players showed signs of brain injury. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/04/12/40-percent...
As far as 'no study showing that football up to college level is detrimental.' This is, in fact, completely false.
From the same article, 'Last year Frontline reported that researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which the Mayo Clinic defines as “brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas” that is “a diagnosis only made at autopsy,” in 96 percent of the NFL players they examined and in 79 percent of football players at various levels of play.'
All of this information is readily available and backed by a robust body of research.

by Willsy :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 4:13am

With all due respect to the posters on this site getting rid of the helmet would solve a lot of the problems.

That doesn't mean that everything will be solved and like American Football Rugby League and Union has its injury problems. But......

When you look at the collision of the OL and DL when the ball is snapped it makes it "easy" to butt heads. Without a helmet you would quickly have smashed skulls, noses, chins etc. But really quickly players would have to evolve.

Reading the literature the problem with concussions is the brain swishing from side to side and hitting the skull. It isn't hard to see that if you have this massive weapon you are more than happy to use. Use means either it protects the outer shell of the skull (nose, chin, teeth, cheeks etc) which is important to attract women but doesn't help your brain much. The other meaning of the word use is to stick it into the knee, stomach, head, whatever of your opponent.

Rugby players have evolved to not use their heads to hurt their opponent due to the fact that absent a helmet you suffer a lot of damage.

To be clear Rugby does have severe head clashes, especially in the backs. But as many posters have mentioned Rugby tackling is taught to use the shoulders and to wrap up the ball carrier. In fact the Australian RU coaching philosophy is to use a "chop" tackle which is designed to get the ball carrier on the ground as quickly as possible. The chop technique emphasises wrapping, shoulder placement, protecting the tackler and ball carrier, and basically getting the weight of the tackler and the ball carrier to combine and cause the ball carrier to fall to the ground.

There are quite a number of Australians I know who were experienced Rugby players who have played a lot of American football and to a man they have all said the first thing they would get rid of is the helmet.

There have been debates in Rugby circles regarding the size of the field but this is more to do with the fact that players today are bigger, faster and fitter than when the game was invented. Hence the debate has been on how both codes could be opened up more.


by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 10:37am

"Without a helmet you would quickly have smashed skulls, noses, chins etc. "

Indeed. This is why the line of scrimmage is 137 years old, and helmets are 133 years old. Those things you cite? They were pretty common.

by jtr :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 9:33am

I'm not sure that I buy the premise that spreading the field further will reduce the impact of collisions. It's not like a blitzing linebacker takes it easy on the opposing O-line just because the offense is in a spread formation. I don't think a bigger field would do anything to reduce impact in the trenches, and it just assures that collisions in the open field will occur with everyone going top speed.

by White Rose Duelist :: Wed, 05/03/2017 - 11:10pm

"The average American football game has about 79 tackles, while a rugby game contains around 221 different collisions between players."

Presumably there is one tackle per play in football, but at least four other collisions (between linemen), so I think American football has a comparable number (if not more) hits.

by ChrisS :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 10:02am

Besides tackles there are hits made when clearing out the ruck. I am not a head injury exxpert, or rugby expert, so I don't know if these kind of hits result in brain trauma or are numerous enough to matter.

by rj1 :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 11:10am

You cannot charge into a ruck and just hit someone. That's a penalty. You must go through the gate (over the ball carrier's body) - so you can't come in at an angle from the side of the ruck - and must bind onto the opposing rucker if you're choosing to counterruck and contest possession of the ball.


by BJR :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 10:32am

There are lots of lower level collisions in Rugby also, every scrum, ruck or maul (perhaps they are included in the 221).

As somebody mentioned above, Rugby has a burgeoning concussion issue itself. The principal reason it is not as talked about as in the NFL is only that Rugby is a long way behind on the professionalism curve. Rugby Union was not a professional sport anywhere until 20 years ago, and naturally player size, power and athletic ability has exploded since then.

Ultimately both are violent, attritional sports, where the bigger, stronger team almost always wins. It's hard to regulate against that without fundamentally changing/sanitizing the sport.

by rj1 :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 11:41am

Size definitely helps, but unlike in football where the linemen are largely static, the big forwards - the props - are expected to have some mobility to run around, carry the ball, ruck. Plus, the taller you are, the worse the scrummager you're going to be which is the foremost job of props on the rugby field. If you look at some people that don't know enough about rugby union to know how it works when they make a fantasy roster from NFL players, they'll pick some 6'6" linemen as props, and that's likely not going to work well. You really want players that are shorter but are built very stout. Reason is when you form the scrum, you want the scrummaging unit to get as low as it can so it can go underneath the opposing scrum and use that leverage to drive them back and win the contest for the ball. (Props are also normally lifters in the lineout.) The biggest guy I'm aware of that got up to international rugby for a decent country was an Irishman named Tony Buckley, who Wikipedia says is 6'5", 305lb. The Irish fans called him "Buckles" to tell you what his main problem was. He was normally just a substitute that played the last 20 or so minutes of the match.

Also, in my 8 years' playing experience at club level, former high school wrestlers normally make better rugby players than former football players. They are so great at tackling and their trained impetus to be low at all times serves them so well in the sport.

"Ultimately both are violent, attritional sports, where the bigger, stronger team almost always wins. It's hard to regulate against that without fundamentally changing/sanitizing the sport."

Crack down on steroids, HGH, and other related PEDs for starters. There is still no good credible test for HGH and I seriously wonder what percentage of people in high-level sport across the world are on the stuff.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 11:24am

Undoubtedly more hits in football, and more violent ones just from the nature of the sport. Long-term head injuries are a huge problem for offensive linemen, who, barring turnovers, aren't making a tackle. They're instead 300+ pound athletes who train their bodies to explode forward and make hits on a huge number of plays that aren't "tackles" in any way. Part of the flow of a football game is huge hit, pause, reset, and huge hit again and again.

For all the talk about "not leading with the head" or "tackling properly", none of that actually addresses the fact that in the trenches linemen are beating the hell out of each other on every play, and the great majority of the time that has nothing to do with the tackle itself.

by RobotBoy :: Fri, 05/05/2017 - 3:30am

Indeed. Probably the greatest contributor to CTE is repeated, sub-concussive impacts and not the huge hits that knock dudes out of the game (although those are a problem too, given that the aftereffects of a concussion can linger for years).

by andrew :: Thu, 05/04/2017 - 1:14pm

I wondered what if you had a weight limit, not on individual players but on the total of the 11 players on the field at any given time. But that probably changes over the course of a game, so you would need to do weigh-ins before the game. and then you get to boxing style cutting weight which comes with its own health and safety issues.

by Lebo :: Mon, 05/08/2017 - 5:24pm

I have long thought that reducing the play clock would reduce injuries. Less time between plays should mean that players cannot be as large as they are today. Smaller players should mean fewer or less-severe injuries.