Legislating the Football Out of Football
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - American sociologist Robert Merton is given credit for defining the unintended consequences portion of any purposeful decision, almost the social paradigm of Newton's Third Law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Decision-making -- even the most altruistic -- can create outcomes that are unforeseen and some of those can be detrimental to the intended goal of the original vision.
The NFL should be an expert in all of this by now because the overlegislation of its game has slowly chipped away at the entertainment value of the product for years.
The latest shaky decision is an undefined "targeting" rule implemented before a national education process explaining the changes set to take place, a now typical overreaction designed to placate a protest culture that has become a living, breathing "terminator," systematically attacking and destroying all that doesn't live up to the ever-changing litmus test of the day.
The only thing stronger than this "terminator" is the hypocrisy that fuels it.
The latest offering by the league to its unsatiable moral masters is a law that many joked was written on a bar napkin at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, penalizing (and possibly ejecting) players for unsafe helmet-to-helmet hits.
“This has very little requirement to it,” Rich McKay, Falcons president and the head of the NFL competition committee, admitted to reporters on Tuesday. “This is simply if you lower your head to initiate contact and you make contact with an opponent it’s a foul.”
The story behind this is the rush to eliminate poor tackling technique by law in the wake of the ugly Ryan Shazier play that resulted in the Pittsburgh Steelers star needing spinal surgery, as well as the continued swim upstream to eliminate concussions in a collision-heavy sport.
To many, any safety-based initiative in professional football has only one goal and therefore couldn't possibly spin off any unintended consequences harmful to those making the original decision.
From a football perspective, however, the end result will be on-field officials being put in untenable positions as they decide more outcomes and become even more vilified, all for doing their jobs.
“I think it’s going to be impossible to officiate,” former league officiating chief Mike Pereira told SiriusXM NFL Radio. “You’ll see the same things happen with this as we’ve seen with the crown-of-the-helmet rule: very few calls. I think most of it will be taken care of after the fact with potential fines."
Morally you can't equate those two things, of course, but this has never been a moral question or at least it shouldn't be.
At the end of the day, the NFL is an entertainment business and a somewhat healthy one in 2018 but much of the league's oft-cited success is tied to only one revenue source and it happens to be in one of the most volatile industries in the world right now -- television.
If the continued fragmentation of the audience due to over-the-top, streaming options results in checks providing the same numbers from different accounts, all remains good but if enough people stop caring about any entertainment product, the gravy train will end quickly.
Currently, the NFL is trying to serve two masters and the end result is that neither is happy.
Many of those who grew up on a different brand of football do not like the modern game nearly as much and those who decry the violence of the sport remain appalled by it.
My point is the league can never win over the latter so why not focus on the former?
It's not as simple as that of course because pending legal issues almost force the NFL to show good faith when it comes to player-safety issues and you can make a strong arugument that because the wording of the new decree is so vague, this is about optics and public relations more than anything else.
If that's the case, however, one side of this debate is angered even more.
To save the sport, it's time for something radical: the stipulation from both sides of the fence [the owners and their players] that this is a game which could cause significant health problems, both immediately and later in life.
If an adult's cost-benefit analysis says the reward of playing this game outweighs the risk, it's time to stop the revisionist history absolving them of any consequences from there own personal decision-making.
And if you don't agree with that, it's time to ban football because you simply can't turn a dangerous game into a safe one with an act of legislation.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for Extra Points Media and 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen