If you aren’t progressing then you’re regressing, because life is constantly evolving around you and we must keep moving forward to keep up. But there’s always a price to be paid for all this progress.
This past NFL season was unlike anything the league had seen before. Football and politics collided, and not in a good way. This wasn't the President calling to congratulate an individual for breaking a record or winning the Super Bowl as we’re accustomed to. This got ugly — quick.
The league also instructed the teams and their trainers prior to the season to more closely monitor players after plays that might have resulted in them having their “bell rung.” It became apparent that the helmet was far too often being used as a weapon, not as the piece of safety equipment it’s intended to be.
The NFL is still feeling the effects of this new political scrutiny and their inability to provide a safer work environment for the players. They would be wise to remember it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time.
No matter where you stand concerning the national anthem protests, we can all agree it needs to be handled more productively moving forward. It negatively impacted the NFL’s image, sponsors (see Papa Johns), and fan base. That certainly was not the desired effect of the protests initially. They were meant to bring awareness and start a dialog over perceived societal inequalities. Mission accomplished — kind of — but with a lot of unwanted complications.
Many NFL fans were left with a bad taste in their mouths. Multiple players have had their reputations and employment impacted. Most of this could have been avoided with better communication. There’s a time and a place for activism, but during the national anthem is neither the time nor the place.
This offseason during the owner’s meetings, the league made a knee-jerk reaction to try and control the situation. Most decisions made hastily are not thoroughly thought out, and their solution to the problem is a good example. I believe the situation was going to work itself out, if only the league would have stayed out of it — but now we’ll never know.
Hopefully, this season won’t be a repeat of last season. True progress in these issues will be determined by the time and resources contributed by the players, the franchises, and community leaders off the field. It’s impossible to govern morality — that’s an individual responsibility.
Another issue facing the NFL is player safety and the impact of modern technology advancements involving the football helmet. There was a wonderful article posted a few weeks ago here on BTSC, by cliff-harris-is-still-a-punk, discussing the advancements in modern helmet design and engineering. The modern helmets are much lighter and engineered to absorb and redirect the force of impact to better protect the athlete. This is an innovative development for player safety, but it’s really only a step in the right direction.
We must keep in mind that helmets were not a part of football until years after its origin. Most of us grew up playing football in the backyard or on a playground. Oftentimes, it was two-hand touch because flag football wasn't in the picture yet. Things got serious when you played tackle. You definitely didn't lead with your noggin’, or you would get knocked out. Head up, wrap your arms, and drag the runner down. Even when you got older and played organized ball you were still taught the same fundamentals.
Make no mistake, the new helmet rule wasn't approved just in an effort to prevent concussions and CTE cases. It was in an effort to prevent catastrophic injuries like Ryan Shazier's. Ryan was notorious for leading with his helmet, and was even penalized for it during a playoff game against the Bengals. It's too late now to do anything about Shazier's injury, but the league is trying to prevent similar injuries moving forward.
There are sure to be frustrations due to inconsistencies with rule interpretation and enforcement, but you have to start somewhere. Hopefully, the new rule won't end up costing a team a victory that affects its road to the Super Bowl — like the catch-rule last season.
One thing I won't miss is watching a defensive player try to get on Sportscenter with a knockout hit, only to whiff on the tackle. I would say there were at least three missed tackles to every one jarring impact. The Steelers were thirty-first in the league in missed tackles, which was second worst. Mitchell and Davis were big contributors to this undesirable ranking, but there was plenty of blame to go around.
In a perfect world, this new rule change will force Steelers’ defenders to focus on their tackling fundamentals to avoid hurting the team with a penalty or suspension. This renewed focus should result in fewer missed tackles and instances of head trauma.
Thursday's game against the Eagles will be our first opportunity on a lot of fronts for Steelers Nation. Our first opportunity to see the rookies and fellow newcomers in action. Training camp is one thing, but how will many of the camp darlings respond under the bright lights against a very talented Eagles squad. Hopefully, there will be plenty of positive results to get pumped up about, and most importantly, no serious injuries.
It will also be our first chance to watch the Steelers competing under the new rule changes. I'm rooting for the refs to get those bad calls out of their systems before the games really count.
Enjoy the game and, as always, "Go Steelers!"