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Quick Inside Slant: Week 8

Impressions of the 2015 NFL Season as perceived by a Creative Writing graduate student, part-time amateur stand-up comedian and collegiate intramural flag football legend.

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By: Dustin Fisher

Ricardo Lockette 2

After lying on the ground motionless for several minutes, Ricardo Lockette regained movement in his extremities, making this yet another week in which a player didn’t die on the football field. Yay.

Thick Skin

It takes a certain kind of player to play this game. With the exception of offensive linemen and quarterbacks, every backup player is pretty much expected to play special teams. Which means if you’re an aspiring corner or wide receiver, you’ll likely have to spend some time as a gunner or a “wedge-buster” before earning some time at the position you dreamed about playing as a star on your youth football team. So you may have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the mentality to run into another human being at full speed several times a game, you’re not going to make it in the NFL.

Players run the risk of getting injured on every play in the NFL, but the punt returns and kickoff returns, where by nature of the play concept, you have people running from 50+ yards away to try to tackle a ball-carrier, carry a lion’s share of the deadly hits in the league. For this reason, there have constantly been rules added to the rule book to try to cut down on the chance of major injury. And while some of the rule changes are legitimately for player safety, some are very obviously only with the intent to appear as if they care about player safety.

Half Measures

Outside of the series finale, my favorite episode of Breaking Bad is called “Half Measures.” In it, Jonathon Banks tells a great story about a time when he and another cop only scared this abusive husband, when they should have killed him, as he would later go on to do some really bad things. The point of his story is that they gave a half measure when the situation called for a full measure.

hard hits videoIn 2007, Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills suffered a head injury on a kickoff return and was paralyzed from the shoulders down. His story ended in “triumph” as he was able to walk again in a few months and let’s be honest, for those watching it live like I was, the fact that he was still alive was a breath of fresh air. But it started some long overdue rule changes that are still being tinkered with today. They got rid of the three and four-player wedge. Great idea. They also only let the players have a five-yard free run on kickoffs. OK. Maybe that helps a little. There was even talk of possibly doing away with kickoffs. But what about Devin Hester? So instead, they came up with the stupidest rule change of the last 20 years. They moved the kickoff up five yards.

My college roommate would often come home drunk and I would ask him how he got home. He drove, of course. And when I would make him aware of how stupid that was and how he could have killed somebody with the two-ton vehicle he was trying to control, his reply to me was “Dude, it’s only like five minutes away.” Translated into sober, non-idiot speak, this meant that because he was only on the road for five minutes, as opposed to 30 minutes, that he was six times less likely to kill someone (or get a DUI, as was his concern). And the most infuriating thing about it is that he was not denying he was too drunk to drive. Instead, he was bastardizing math by reducing the chances he’d kill someone by going to a more local bar. This is what the NFL is doing by moving the kickoff up five yards.

The first year of the rule change, the touchback percentage skyrocketed from under 20% to over 46%, cutting the number of potential paralysis victims nearly in half. But this rule change only reduced the number of times this play would happen per game, it didn’t change the safety of the play at all. The only effect it really had is that now, instead of fast forwarding through the extra point attempt and subsequent commercials, I’m fast forwarding through the kickoff and subsequent commercials. After all, there were only six kickoff return touchdowns in 2014, down from 23 in 2010 (the year before the rule change). This ridiculous rule change is a half measure. And if you really care about head injuries – and honestly, I could appreciate it if the NFL would say “Sorry, but this is a part of the game” – then take a full measure and get rid of the kickoff instead of just making it the new extra point.

Penalizing the Result

The NFL can breathe a sigh of relief that Ricardo Lockette turned out to be OK. Well, he needed surgery to stabilize ligaments in his neck, but he’s breathing in and out. But the fact that they threw a flag on the play because Lockette was unconscious is cowardly, but not surprising. I’m sure a ref saw him get hit that hard, saw that he didn’t get up, and threw the flag, only to have to justify it later. A blind-side hit. Right. Jeff Heath was tracking him the whole way, and Lockette saw him briefly before getting hit, and it’s a play made ALL THE TIME on special teams when a gunner dares to go across the middle, which is why you often see them running out of bounds for long periods of time. The only reason a flag was thrown was because the hit knocked him out, and that reeks of a league that wants to appear as if they care about player safety.

I’m sure to the old school football fan, it seems like the league is getting a little sissy. These violent collisions used to be celebrated and highlighted on videos the NFL would sell for profit. Now, you can’t target players uninvolved in the play, there’s a “strike zone” on the quarterback, and there was some weird rule change a few years ago that said that a ball carrier couldn’t lower his head that I don’t think was ever called. But most of these old school fans are from a time when people somehow didn’t know that football caused major head injuries. Sure, we can look back on that with the wisdom of our time and wonder how people could have been that stupid, but these are the same people who didn’t know smoking was bad for you. Anyway, my point is that this is the new NFL, and they’re gradually trying to figure out how to accommodate their game to the fans of today, who are these empathetic sissies who don’t want to see people die on the football field, while still maintaining the fans of yesterday, who punch each other and smoke Marlboro Lights. Because the NFL has a steady stream of players lined up to take the spot of the next guy who needs ligament surgery in his neck, but I doubt the league could survive if after one such hit, a player doesn’t.

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Dustin Fisher is a writer, comedian, storyteller, and stay-at-home dad. Follow along with his dad blog at http://daddyneedsanap.com/ or buy his first book, Daddy Issues.

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Dustin Fisher is an amateur standup comedian, storyteller, freelance writer, and stay-at-home dad, all of which are just better ways of saying “unemployed.” He worked in the area of collegiate recreation for the previous 14 years at UMBC, Miami University and the University of Baltimore. There, he became somewhat of a folk legend on the flag football field and actually got paid to play fantasy football. Dustin is currently in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore seeking a Masters degree in Creative Writing. He has made contributions to various publications including The Good Men Project and the Baltimore Fishbowl. For more about Dustin, check out his stay-at-home dad website, Daddy Needs a Nap. Dustin lives with his wife and daughter in New Carrollton, MD in a house surrounded by too many trees to get the Dish Network.

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