Let's see if we've got this straight.
1. The NFL concussion rate is so serious that Congress is looking into it. 2. Many NFL teams are now playing on a synthetic turf that, according to one study, has an injury rate that is 27 percent higher than on grass. 3. The lifespan of an NFL player is about 20 years shorter than the average American male. 4. Players are bigger and faster and harder-hitting (read: more dangerous) than ever.
So what does the NFL want to do?
Add two more games to the regular season.
Doesn't this just sound like a perfect storm of events for increasing the injury rate, not reducing it?
On Sunday, two Redskins' defenders crushed Michael Vick like a walnut and knocked him out of the game, perhaps for weeks. The Giants bounced Jay Cutler's head off the turf like a basketball, and he exited the game with a concussion. Then they did the same to his replacement, Todd Collins. Five starting quarterbacks have already been sidelined by injuries after just four weeks of the season.
Running backs Ray Rice, Reggie Bush, Clinton Portis, Ryan Grant, Chris Johnson and Ryan Matthews are already gimpy or gone. Superstar receiver Andre Johnson was unable to play last week because of an ankle injury, and All-Pro safety Bob Sanders is out for the year.
It's no wonder. Thirty years ago, there was one player in the entire NFL who weighed 300 pounds. In the last few years, there have been as many as 400 of them in fall camp. And yet players are faster than ever. On Sunday, the Bears' 6-foot-7, 283-pound Julius Peppers ran down Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw from behind before the latter could turn the corner on a sweep. As if the game weren't fast enough, they play on a green carpet. Add steroids to the mix — c'mon, you don't think they're part of the game? — and, voila, you've got carnage.
One study revealed that the average life span of NFL players who play for five or more years is 55 (52 for linemen). They lose one to three years of their life expectancy for every year they play in the league.
The biggest problem, of course, is the damage inflicted to the brain. In 2003, impact recorders were placed in the helmets of the Virginia Tech football team. It was discovered that players totaled 3,300 blows to the head in practices and games. They sustained an average of 50 blows to the head during a game, with the average force of each blow about 40 times the force of gravity and some of them as high as 120 — or roughly the equivalent of a severe car crash. One or two such hits occur every game.
Now the NFL wants to add two more games' worth of collisions to its regular season. That's two more games at the end of the season, when players are already fatigued and more injury-prone. It means shortened careers. It means a nine-year career becomes the equivalent of the current 10-year career.
"The players do not want that to happen," Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and union representative Charlie Batch said Wednesday, "because that's extra games that are added on to your bodies."
Nobody put it better than Sports Illustrated columnist Selena Roberts when she wrote, "Fans will only notice the effects of an 18-game season if the quality of play deteriorates. When does the quality of players' lives enter the equation?"
She told the story of former tight end Wesley Walls, who endured 11 surgeries and a hip-replacement procedure before the age of 41. By then, he couldn't bend over to put his socks on or tie his shoes. He couldn't get out of bed without his wife's help.
And yet most of the talk these days about an 18-game season is about how much more money the players will have to be paid for the extra two games.
The NFL defends the move by noting that it will eliminate two of its four preseason games to accommodate the extra two regular-season games. It's not a fair trade. Veterans play sparingly in the preseason and the games aren't nearly as intense. Preseason games are tryouts for new players.
There's a reason that nobody plays 18 games in a season at any level — little league, high school, college or pro. It's too hard on players. That's why they're the only sport that plays only one game per week. Baseball can play 162 games, basketball 82, but football has its limits. The NFL played 12-game schedules until it went to 14 games in 1961 and then 16 games in 1978 and soon it will be 18. Where will it stop?
The extra games reduce the importance and drama of regular-season games, and they wear out players. There is only one reason the league is expanding its schedule. You guessed it: Money. Nobody is really thinking of the players.
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