McMullen: Helmet Rule is Not Safe for the NFL
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Take away the addiction of fanaticism to your favorite team and ask yourself, why do you watch the NFL?
If the average follower of North America's most popular sports league is capable of being honest with themselves the only answer left is habit.
Watching the Eagles lose in Foxborough on Thursday night was just the standard fare for any NFL journalist, a necessary evil in an attempt to get to Sept. 6 when the excitement ramps up to a fever pitch.
Expect my temperature isn't rising and I'm not terribly looking forward to the 2018 season, a revelation I came to when asked by a friend what I would be doing on a Sunday afternoon in the fall if I didn't have to watch football for my occupation.
In the past, that answer would have been the easiest thing in the world for me to come up with: watching football, probably with even more interest because I could sit back and actually enjoy the show with no responsibilities.
Come September, however, the last thing I would be doing is wasting hours in front of the TV or driving to an overcrowded venue unless I had to because the product that the NFL rolls out these days has never been less entertaining.
That reality has nothing to do with the players, who are more skilled than they've ever been, and little to do with the evolution of the game, which admittedly has taken the sport is a less-aesthetic direction. It has everything to do with the overlegislation of the game.
The NFL's new helmet rule is overbearing and on its way to crippling the sport if the league and the NFLPA can't come together and agree to stipulate this is a dangerous game which can affect the health of those who make an adult decision to play it.
Admitting that is a tough hill to climb in a politically-correct world where everyone is afraid to be taken to the social-media woodshed and be called uncaring.
The dogma of "safety" is killing the NFL because so much of what made this league compelling is unsafe. Those two thoughts simply can't be rectified by legislation without getting the watered down nonsense we've had this preseason where form tackles are walked off at 15-yard clips.
Three Eagles defenders were flagged for personal fouls for lowering their helmets to initiate contact against the Patriots on Thursday and none were happy about it.
In the moment most complained about how the defense is unfairly targeted -- pun intended -- but Nigel Bradham also pointed to how the rule is impacting both the entertainment value and bottom line of the game.
“It’s definitely slowing the game down," Bradham surmised. "I feel like it’s extending drives. We could have been off the field a couple times tonight, and those plays were the reason why we weren’t.”
If you're a movie buff you probably know "Verbal" Kint and Keyser Söze were one in the same in the 1990s neo-noir classic "The Usual Suspects." The question left open-ended in the film is whether Kint was just the petty con artist the authorities thought he was or Söze, the ruthless crime lord who reached a mythical status in the criminal underworld.
That's up for interpretation with the real answer somewhere in between but what isn't is the famous line delivered by Kevin Spacey, who played Kint in the film: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."
Deflection is always the tool used by those who want to obfuscate.
In the case of the NFL, many have rationalized the league's declining television ratings in numerous ways like the fragmentation of the audience due to new technologies by those writing off any descent or the social-injustice protests during the national anthem by those who feel uncomfortable with people who think differently than them.
All of it distraction.
In life, Occam's Razor almost always applies: the simplest answer is the correct one, in this case, the product stinks and more and more continue to wake-up to the fact every day.
And the stench permeates from the legislation no one wants but exists as a safeguard against future litigation.
Forgot about the white noise of collective bargaining over weed testing or anthem punishment. Heck, even the revenue split takes a back seat to saving the sport that makes one side wealthy and the other one rich.
That may be the only thing owners and players will ever agree upon even if each side doesn't realize it just yet.
"Hopefully, this is just a preseason thing and they work out how they’re going to call it by the time we get to Week 1," Malcolm Jenkins warned, "because otherwise, the entire game has changed.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen