Toward a Moral Professional Football League

Horde legionnaire David White has offered up some interesting suggestions about how to reform the game. I don't know if any of this is possible. But I think that's also beside the point. Brainstorming is a particular challenge. Making it happen is another. On that note, in addition to critiquing it'd be nice if you guys throw out ideas on your own:

I don't intend to stop watching. I could go into a lot about my thinking, but it essentially comes down to the my belief that these players are making the same Achilles bargin that young men have been making for eons, and I'm comfortable accepting that.

The game will never be "safe," but that doesn't mean that changes can't be made to make the game safer. Some changes I would like to see (some of which may have already been started):

1) Off field changes

-- Move to fully guaranteed contracts and expand rosters. Players would be more willing to sit if they know they won't be cut off/replaced after being injured. And a larger roster would make it easier for a team to keep an injured players on the payroll.

-- Full health coverage for players who played more than 3 years or suffered a career-ending injury.

-- Robust mental therapy program for players transitioning into retirement (possibly make it a requirement for retired players seeking health care coverage).

-- Doctors work for the league, not for the teams. And each doctor has a clear checklist on the sideline that a player must pass if they're suspected of being concussed.

-- Brain function tests at the start and end of every season, which are shared with the players at the start of training camp every year. Make sure their choice is as well-informed as possible.

-- If a player suffers a concussion, they're not allowed to play in the following week. If they suffer a second concussion, they have to skip two games. Any more, they're forced to sit out the rest of the season.

-- Add another bye week to the season, and either end Thursday night games, or schedule them in such a way that teams only play them when coming off of a bye week.

2) On field changes

-- Make every offensive player an eligible receiver. Over the long term, I think this would reduce the size of linemen to TE sized players, and it'd eliminate a lot of the "in the trenches" hit a player takes over his career. It would also make the game more strategically complex, as defenses would have to guess who's going out to receive and who's staying to block. It's a big break from tradition, but ironically, it'd make the sport much more similar to the way that it's played by ordinary people in backyards around the country.

-- Ban the 3-pt and 4-pt stance. Instead of firing into each other in a way where it's impossible to avoid head-to-head contact, make offensive lineman line up in the way they often do already for pass plays, and make defensive linemen line up more like linebackers. There'd still be head to head contact, but it wouldn't be as natural and inevitable.

-- Experiment with different helmet materials. The history of the sport proves that helmets are needed (players regularly died on the field back before helmets were used), but they should experiment with materials that make leading with the head less likely. Maybe something closer to the leather helmets of old, or like the headgear boxers use when sparring.

(To fantasize for a moment about helmet technology: I don't think they'll ever be able to create a helmet to stop concussions, despite what NFL PR tries to tell us. But I'd like to see something that registers the amount of force taken by a player over the course of a game. And once it reaches a certain threshold, a player has to leave the game. Like it slowly turns red the more hits it takes, and once it's glowing red, the player has to leave the game.)

What do you guys think of these ideas? What ideas do you suggest?

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.


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