It is my belief that improvements to equipment would better protect active players and prevent long-term damage that much of my generation now manage with varying degrees of success. Plus, better equipment would allow the league to promote the big hits players are bred to deliver. I believe bigger, stronger, and faster should be utilized, not handicapped by rule changes.
If answering honestly, most football viewers admit to enjoying the violent hits; however, they never want to see their favorite players injured. Since 2002, the NFL has made over fifty rule changes to eliminate dangerous tactics and reduce the risk of injuries, but these efforts slowed the game. While contests average three hours and twelve minutes, there are only eleven minutes of true action . . . and do not get me started on the hundred commercials per game, pure insanity.
Meanwhile, in an average year, sixty-eight percent of players suffer injury. Safer equipment thoughts screamed to get out of my head as my entrepreneurial instincts fired. I put pen to paper to develop a proposal for the evolution of NFL equipment. Think Terminator meets Gladiator, but with real and available technology, not science fiction. I did my research, hired a designer, and laid out my vision, Jerry McGuire style. I was on a mission with firm conviction and the science to back it up. I shared my proposal with the NFL, the NFL Players Association, and various local chapters but only got a few polite responses. The league and players were just not ready. Not then, not now.
Bottom line, the sport is inherently violent. But there are plenty of other professions, equally dangerous, that have made vast upgrades and additions to their gear. Hockey, motocross, and even the military aggressively upgraded their equipment to better protect their resources. Why not football? Sure, helmet and shoulder pad materials have improved modestly over the years. But if you look at the equipment from the 1970s and compare it to today’s gear, it is sorely lacking in substantial improvements.
It is hard to watch 330 lb. athletes tangled up in a mosh pit of mayhem with bodies flying, yet only a handful of knee braces donned for protection. Almost every game, a player is assisted off the field because of a leg injury: knee, ankle, hamstring . . . you name it.
Meanwhile, helmets should never be knocked off a player’s head. While I am no engineer, I know there are ways to connect the helmet to the shoulder pads while still providing full mobility. This would reduce the chances of violent head snaps that rattle the brain and cause long-term damage.
Then there is heat stress, not often talked about, that also negatively impacts player performance and leads to fatigue, cramping, and a host of injuries. Where are the cool vests or suits to help alleviate this risk? My desire is to see better protection for the players and reduce the penalties so this game and its violence can be enjoyed.
It saddens me to think it may take more severe injuries or deaths for player safety to earn the attention it deserves. In the meantime, I will continue to share my message with those who will listen. I maintain my steadfast conviction that changing football for the better is possible.
More on this topic and others in my forthcoming memoir, Aggressively Human, to be released on all platforms in November 2023.