Safer post-lockout NFL will still include violence

by | National Columnist

The NFL you will soon see is going to look drastically different from the one you witnessed only months ago.

There still will be bloody Sundays and demonstrable violence, but it will be more contained. The path the NFL has traveled over the past few years -- fewer harder hits, less leading with helmets, more protection of defenseless players -- will continue. And then some.

The fines for illegal hits might increase. Suspensions might come easier.

The new collective bargaining agreement won't only change the financial landscape of the NFL for up to the next decade, it also will clearly continue to change the sport's on-field culture, from one of unmitigated and unchecked violence to highly policed collisions.

Some, including players, will say this new culture will make the NFL softer. Others will say it makes the sport safer. Both are right.

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Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris tweeted this as the rank and file began to hear about likely will be a new collectively bargained and safer NFL culture: "Dear NFL, I really appreciate the violence and physicality of our game can we please keep it that way......Sincerely, Physical Player"

This certainly will be the reaction of many players, particularly on defense, who think the NFL has already gone too far in protecting offensive players. Before his ridiculous and homophobic rant this week, Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison long had stated that he felt Roger Goodell had softened the sport too much. At the Super Bowl, he offered this mocking assessment: "I just want to tackle them softly on the ground. If you can, can you lay a pillow down where I'm going to tackle them so they don't hit the ground too hard, Mr. Goodell?"

And there certainly will be charges that the league, which pushed for an 18-game season and didn't get it, is being hypocritical with these changes.

Yet here we are. We won't know exactly what those culture changes will be until the ink is dry on the new CBA. But the sides spent Friday working on the details. There's no question, however, the sport will look different. And there is also no question: It will be safer.

The union has pushed for changes due to a growing realization that the damage done by the sport, particularly to the brain, might be far worse than players want to admit.

One member of the NFLPA said what the association has to do is look out for the health issues of its players, even if some of the players don't want to do that for themselves.

The official cited the recent spate of brain studies of recently deceased NFL players like Dave Duerson, the onetime Bears defensive back who committed suicide and was known as one of the hardest-hitting players of his generation. Scientists discovered he was suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease that is common with athletes who play high-impact sports.

The NFLPA believes it must intervene and do more to protect its players, or one day there could be a legion of men like Duerson.

Not only will the new culture be evident different during games, but also on the practice field. Multiple sources say the players are pushing for -– and will likely receive -– fewer days of offseason training and contact. There will be less helmet-on-helmet banging in the spring (players hate this type of training, perhaps more any other).

Seattle Seahawks guard Chester Pitts recently told me: "Hitting each other hard in the offseason for weeks and weeks while wearing helmets and shorts is about the dumbest thing you can do in football. It makes no sense."

Yes, the sport will look different, and it might not be as bloodthirsty. And yes, there will be cries the NFL has become the National Fluffy League.

But the sport is plenty violent. Always has been, always will be.

And there's nothing wrong with saving the players from themselves.


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