Just as the National Football League season heads into the final few weeks and fans’ interest peaks in anticipation of the playoffs, Commissioner Roger Goodell has a growing public relations dilemma.
Reacting in part to several scientific studies recently conducted about the effects of concussions, the NFL has made player safety a priority. One way the league did so was by enforcing rules regarding hitting “defenseless” receivers and striking players “helmet to helmet.” As a result, a bundle of fines and flags have been thrown at the feet of players this season.
But now the NFL may need to react to a groundswell of confusion and anger by players who say they believe the NFL has become too protective, too inconsistent, and too quick to issue fines for players who violate the rules. What’s ironic is that the very players the NFL is attempting to protect from head injuries are the ones complaining about the rules, claiming that aggression is being removed from the game.
While at first it was a select few defensive players who had reputations for being quick-tempered that were speaking out against the NFL’s new crackdown on cracking heads, this week the source of criticism has crossed the line of scrimmage. Offensive players, such as Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward, are now joining the crowd that claims the NFL is unfairly and inconsistently punishing certain defenders for aggressive play on the field.
In fact, Ward, one of the most respected players in the game, went so far as to call the NFL brass “hypocrites” because if player safety was such a concern, he argues the NFL wouldn’t have recently agreed to extend the regular season from 16 to 18 games (although the preseason schedule will be reduced).
While Ward is concerned about his perception that players are being treated unfairly by the NFL, he is also likely looking out for the interest of his own team, because the Steelers have made a reputation of being a hard-hitting defense, and teammate James Harrison has been fined four times for $125,000 by the NFL for hits it deemed were against the rules.
“If they’re so concerned about safety, why are you adding two more games? That right there tells it all,” Ward told a group of reporters. “They don’t care about the safety of the game. If they’re worried about concussions … mandate each player has a new helmet. They don’t do that. They collect money from every helmet (company) that pays them enough money to get their helmets on the field. Now they have three different helmets, and none of them (are) proven that they work.”
But Ward didn’t stop there. He claimed hypocrisy by the NFL on other things, from gambling to alcohol, and truthfully he raises some interesting points.
“Talk about safety, but you add two games. Talk about you don’t want players to drink, but our major endorsement is Coors Light. That’s all you see is beer commercials. … You say you don’t want us to gamble, but you have (point) spreads.”
Ward’s comments have certainly ignited an already hotly debated issue. The NFL, now, must figure out a way to douse the flames while attempting to balance player safety with player satisfaction.