Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gladiator sport

By Tom Grant
PhD student, Center for ETHICS*

"You can't eliminate injuries from football. It's a gladiator sport," said Cleveland Browns returner Josh Cribbs, according to ESPN.

That's why Cribbs is unhappy with the new rule on NFL kickoffs, which moves the kickoff point from the 30-yard line to the 35-yard line and restricts the kickoff team to a five-yard running start. The NFL committee rejected two other proposals, one of which would have eliminated the two-man wedge from kickoffs and a second that would have brought touchbacks out to the 25-yard line.

Cribbs said the new rules will take kick returners out of the game. He said the NFL is trying to "hide behind safety," appealing to some safety proponents with this move in a gambit to add two more games to the schedule.

Two more games will likely mean more injuries. But Cribbs eagerness to maintain the "gladiator" nature of football suggests a very short-term view of life. It has only been a month since former Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson shot himself and requested that his brain be examined for evidence of chronic damage due to a lifetime of football hits.

Perhaps Cribbs and other professionals accept the risk of injury along with their paychecks, but millions of younger players have little understanding of the possible long-term consequences of repeated hits to the head. Football would survive even without kickoffs, just as basketball as survives without repeated jump balls.

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