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Fixing Football

Well, I’m sure you all know my stance on football. If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out in detail here.

However, I am not the type who just up and declares why something is rotten and just leaves it at that. I am actually willing to give my take on what can be done to fix the problem.

I am not so blind as to not consider the possibility that something like American football could be a safer, more civilized game not infested with abusive monsters. Therein perhaps lies the biggest issue I have: The fact that there are almost no people, at least among the fans and media who see that there are serious problems in their game that need to be dealt with.

This is why I admire someone like Jason Whitlock. The former Kansas City Star and Fox Sports writer, about to begin his second stint at ESPN, isn’t afraid to point out the massive problems of thug-like attitudes in the game of football. Whitlock says the hip-hop culture invading the game is to blame, and has received massive flak from fellow African-Americans for doing so.

While Whitlock makes good arguments there, I can’t help but think other factors are at work as well – mainly, SportsCenter and the Madden video game series. These have greatly glamorized the most violent aspects of the game and thus encouraged more players to be that overly vicious type. Now, I would never say the solution is to eliminate highlight reels or video game; the real issue comes from parents and coaches not drilling this attitude out of their kids.

Which brings me to this list. Back when Richie Whitt was on the air waves, he decided to make a list of things he though soccer needed to do to improve the most popular game in the entire world. Some had validity to me (like keeping time on the scoreboard) while others not so much (One point for a shot and three for a goal? You want to turn soccer into horseshoes?). So I feel I have the right to present my own list of what the most popular game in America needs to do to fix its problems. Some of these are to clean up other issues not relating to the problems of violence and abusive behavior, but don’t worry, we’ll get to that soon.

1. Start the clock up sooner. No sport wastes time like American football, especially the NFL – though admittedly the NBA is getting close. Do we really need to drag an hour of game time to nearly four times that in real time? There is just too much time when the clock isn’t running, and there’s an easy way to remedy that. Any time the officials have to stop the clock, start it back up once they spot the ball. Why exactly does the clock have to remain stopped from the time a pass hits the ground until the moment they snap the ball again? Heck the only reason the clock stops on an incomplete pass at all is because 100 years ago they had to wait for the lone old guy they had for an official to reclaim the only ball they had. (Yes, I actually did some research on the history of the game.) Totally outdated. Let’s get the game moving.

Of course, every time an organization has tried that, they caved in to pressure. The NCAA tried a similar rule a few years back and dropped it after one year because people like Mike Leach complained that they were unable to run as many plays per game. Wasn’t that kind of the point?

2. Punish for going out of bounds. Outside of the violence aspect, this might be the most frustrating thing about the game. Why is American football the only sport in the entire world that rewards you for going out of bounds? Every other sport, you lose the ball altogether for doing that.

Again, easy to fix: If a player steps out of bounds without having been physically forced out by the defense – no gain on the play, loss of down, ball goes back to the original spot. Make the game stay within the boundaries of the field like every other game is.

3. Actual punishments for excessive violence. Now for the big ones. What can be done to get rid of so much abusive play and subsequently abusive people in the game? Can anything be done to eliminate things like another Bountygate scandal? Maybe not completely, but there is definitely something that can hamper it from being effective. And it lies within the rules of the “other” football.

In soccer, disciplinary action is simple: A player gets a “yellow card” warning for a major infraction and a “red card” ejection for a second offense in a game or extremely serious offense. An ejection or too many yellow cards accumulated leads to a suspension. Such a system can be implemented in the American game; An automatic 1-game suspension for a player getting ejected or racking up too many personal foul penalties. I see 50 yards worth of penalties over a season being fair enough for a first suspension with subsequent ones coming every 30 yards.

The fines the NFL levies for excessive hits is chump change to these players. Make it much more likely that such actions will affect the team, things might start changing.

4. If it’s not a tackle, it’s not legal. People overseas like to call our football “a game for gentlemen played by animals” while rugby is vice versa. The logic being that even though football has more rules and protective gear to try and prevent injury, its participants still try to cause such injury – while trying to get on ESPN in the process.

I know I’m not the only one on this issue. I remember a former co-worker, who played the game, watching Super Bowl and complaining, “No one’s tackling. They’re standing around looking for the chance to make the big hit.” I also remember a former coach on a national radio show brushing off the accusations of kickoffs being too dangerous by saying, “The problem isn’t the kickoffs; the problem is that kids today don’t know how to tackle.” So just flat out make anything other than an actual wraparound tackle illegal – which may be what the NFL is gradually doing anyway. Yes, fans will continue to whine that the manliness is being taken out of the game. Their predecessors did the same whining when helmets were mandated because people were actually dying on the field.

There simply should be no reason for anyone to have to try and break a running back’s spine in two with a headfirst spear. If you’re not good enough to stay in front of the guy with the ball so you can get both arms around him and bring him down the right way, maybe that guy deserves to get around you and take it to the end zone.

5. No Felons Allowed. Playing any sport for a living is a privilege. An NFL job is not protected fully by the U.S. Constitution like your citizenship is. There are several jobs out there that pay a lot less where you can get fired for a lot less than being accused of rape of murder. And I don’t care how good a player you are, no one’s that good, someone is out there that can take your place. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t so much better than everyone that he should be excused for multiple rape allegations. It’s being reported that one NFL player, Kerry Rhodes, is being blacklisted under accusations of being gay, but Michael Vick can’t get blacklisted for abusing dogs?

While it looks like the New England Patriots knew about Aaron Hernandez’s past and took a gamble on drafting him out of Florida, at least Robert Kraft said the right thing when they did cut him before he was even arraigned on his murder charges, saying Hernandez putting himself in such a position was enough that they didn’t want him representing them. The NFL would have a much better image as a whole if everyone followed such a policy: You get accused of a felony, you’re out.

Does what I say sound unfair to claim football needs such stricter conduct rules compared to other sports? Maybe. But the inconvenient truth is that football is an extremely violent sport and thus attracts extremely violent people. Every game will unfortunately have people committing deplorable acts; see only Chad Curtis for proof of that. But when you have a “game” that glorifies the act of severely hitting and injuring people, harsher steps must be taken to ensure the participants be civil within the sidelines and even more civil outside them.

Otherwise, certain sports fans and bloggers have the right to be very afraid of a football player getting within 500 yards of his sister.