You know the old saying about how it takes a thief to catch a thief. Perhaps it takes an NFL “injury-administration specialist” (you like the euphemism?) to call out the league’s increasing trend toward violence.
Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard, who’s got quite a history of taking out players, particularly those who wear New England Patriots jerseys, is frank about where he believes the NFL is heading. There’s a fundamental limit to how large and fast NFL players can get versus the amount of punishment the human body can take, and to Pollard, it can end only one way, as he told CBS Sports:
“The league is trying to move in the right direction [with player safety],” he said, “but, at the same time, [coaches] want bigger, stronger and faster year in and year out. And that means you’re going to keep getting big hits and concussions and blown-out knees. The only thing I’m waiting for … and, Lord, I hope it doesn’t happen … is a guy dying on the field. We’ve had everything else happen there except for a death. We understand what we signed up for, and it sucks.
“Like I said, I pray it never happens, but you’ve got guys who are 350 pounds running 4.5 and 4.4s, and these owners and coaches want scout-run blockers and linemen to move walls. At the same time, they tell you, ‘Don’t hit here, and don’t hit there, or we’ll take your money.’ Like I said, I hope I’m wrong, but I just believe one day there’s going to be a death that takes place on the field because of the direction we’re going.”
The death of a player on the field is a terrifying thought, and considering how close the NFL has come before, it’s a little surprising it hasn’t happened already. Still, Pollard doesn’t know what the answer is, short of completely neutering the game as it is today.
Of note: There has, in fact, been one death on an NFL field. Chuck Hughes of Detroit died in 1971 of a heart attack. That may have been caused by a pre-existing heart condition, but the account of the stadium at the moment of Hughes’ collapse is something we never need to see repeated.
For now, Pollard simply points out that he’s playing by the rules as they are established now … and he’ll keep on playing by the rules as he’s been taught. “We are defenders,” he told CBS. “And when I talk to people I ask them, ‘How would you behave if someone kicks in the door and is going to come into your house? Let’s see how you defend your house; let’s see how you react.’ I protect. Someone comes in who’s unwanted, and you see what happens. The switch goes on. Football is a violent sport, and sometimes bad things happen. Some people don’t like it. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to feed my family, and this is how I do it.”
Someday, years from now, quotes like Pollard’s will be resurrected to demonstrate the difference between the football of today and the football of the future. If we’re around, it’ll be fascinating to see if Pollard was a grim prophet or if the NFL heeded his warnings.
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-
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