The attitude towards contact and hitting has changed dramatically in the last half century. Back in the days of Deacon Jones and Jack Tatum, roughing the passer and hits on a defenseless receiver did not exist in the NFL, and quarterbacks and wide receivers were frequently punished in-game for their indiscretions. The Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s would have scoffed at some of the new rules in the NHL. Am I condoning the brutally violent days of the past? Of course not, but I am starting to believe we are going too far in the opposite direction. Safety should always be a main concern, but right now I feel we are a little too concerned sometimes.
I am all for protecting athletes. I certainly do not want to see any of my favorite players maimed on the field, or reduced to a shell of themselves after retirement. At the same time, I think some of the new rules designed to protect go too far and end up hurting the game. For example, I’m sure any NFL fan can recall an outrageous roughing the passer or personal foul penalty that cost their favorite team. More and more we see overprotective calls, usually for star quarterbacks, that directly affect the game. These calls often lead to scores but also make defenses less aggressive, and sometimes less effective. I know the NFL is just trying to make the game safer, but too many times we see hits that are clearly not malicious or are unavoidable, and yet the flag still comes out. I think referees need to stop assuming the worst and calling these penalties, and the NFL needs to stop punishing defenders by backing dubious roughing calls with fines.
It’s not just football though. I think the new hybrid icing rule in hockey is unnecessary. NHL players should know when a hit is going to be dangerous on a potential icing and be able to restrain themselves. I think hits on icings weren’t a problem and a few bad eggs spoiled it for everyone. Rather than create a new rule, why not punish the offenders and leave it at that? The players should be able to govern themselves in these kinds of matters. What’s even worse is the new rule that prohibits players to remove their helmets before a fight. Obviously the NHL wants to eliminate fighting, but why? To me, there’s nothing wrong with a fair, 1 on 1 fight between two willing combatants. Fighting has always been a part of the game, why try and do away with it now?
Even in baseball, a virtually non-contact sport, the game is being altered to avoid any roughness. Today, a good take out slide to break up a double play is a stand out play, whereas in the past, taking out the second baseman or shortstop was the norm. Collisions at home plate are also now becoming “too dangerous.” Yes, I know Buster Posey lost a year because of an incident at the plate. Don’t tell that to Ray Fosse. Blocking the plate is part of the game, and I think the runner has the right to knock the catcher over in order to score. If the runner does so maliciously, then you can talk about fines and suspensions and all of that. But now, some teams are instructing catchers not to block the plate in fear of injury. The catchers will be safer, but I think doing this hurts the game.
I understand where these changes are coming from. The leagues and teams want to protect their product. Hockey is trying to become increasingly mainstream, and fighting portrays the game as too violent. The NFL is dealing with a massive lawsuit from players with head injuries. Protecting players is important to me too, it really is. I’m completely against intentional contact to the head, going after players’ knees, truly unnecessary roughness, and anything else designed to purposely endanger an opponent. However, we’re still talking about sports. There is an inherent danger built in to every sport, and injuries are bound to happen. No amount of rules will change the inevitability of injuries. I want sports to be safe, not soft.