The NFL is trying to enforce their hard hits policy more strictly, resulting in fines and suspensions in the future, according to a a memo the league sent out this past week. We all know this, so I’ll skip to my main point.
Let us get one thing straight: No one wants players to be hurt. EVERYONE wants players to be safe.
Okay, now that I got that out, let us review what needs to happen:
- The NFL needs to talk with the NFLPA. They need to get their new CBA in place.
- The NFL and NFLPA need to establish some form of open communications. If you want a historical parallel, and if you don’t I’m going to give you one anyway, the US and Soviet Union did not talk. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly destroyed civilization as we know it, they set up the red telephone, which established a direct link between the Kremlin and the White House. The NFL and the union need their own version of the red telephone, as do the unions in baseball and basketball with their respective leagues.
- There needs to be some panel with current and former players, both offensive and defensive, to discuss this. It does not matter whether or not the NFL is directly involved, so long as it is public. If it is public, the NFL will pay attention.
The current policy needs to be an interim policy: this must, must, be in the collective bargaining agreement, so that the union cannot be using this issue as a public relations weapon. If it is in the CBA, it would also give the policy more credibility with the players, who would ultimately have final approval over it.
Is this a problem? Damn right it is. What is the best solution? I honestly do not know. What I do know, however, is that the NFL cannot handle this unilaterally, and neither can the union and the players for that matter. Now, if the NFL is, as is being alleged by the NFLPA, fighting not to pay workman’s comp claims, then the NFL is going to have a potential disaster in public relations coming up.
Finally, the last issue to contend with is the officiating. I do not boo officials, unless I’m at the stadium, because umpires and referees have the toughest job in sports, not to mention that they never get credit when they do it right, and tons of blame when they make a mistake, particularly when it is public. So, how are officials in the NFL supposed to enforce this policy? Talk about subjective calls; officials can’t make pass interference calls right way too much, and now they have the authority to remove players from a game based on a “hard and flagrant hit”? If officials are smart, they won’t do it unless they absolutely have to, at which point come critics will start on with “what’s the point of the policy if they aren’t going to enforce it?” but to those critics I have two words: shut up! (Unless, of course, they are a former/current player, THEN I give it come credence.)
One last thing: the NFL needs to invest in looking at better helmet and pad technology. As I said above, I do not know the solution, but I do have ideas, and those ideas involve a wide, inclusive, and intertwining set of solutions.