Column: Concussion drama threatens NFL’s identity

The NFL’s product is in severe decline, and unless we approach the game with a little more honesty and common sense, it’s going to fall from grace quicker than you can say “concussion.”

Head injuries, after all, will decide the future of our great game. The NFL’s response to the recent onslaught of legal battles waged against it by disabled former athletes has been in line with what you’d expect from any slick-haired politician with multiple agendas: try to make everyone happy while wiggling around the true problem.

Thankfully, blunt honesty has come forward to combat the hypocrisy of a contact sport without the contact. Detroit Lions offensive lineman Dominic Raiola, an 11-year veteran, recently said he would not sue the NFL when he retires.

"When you sign up for this job you know what you're getting into," Raiola said to ESPN. "(Health issues) are going to come. It's common knowledge that people are going to suffer.”

Quotes like this are difficult to consume, but it provides a direct window to the other side of the situation. Raiola sees playing in the NFL as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that comes at a cost.

While the very old-timers (think players from the 1940s-70s) may have a case against the league, far more recent athletes are angry at the cash cow that fed them generously during their careers.

While they didn’t know all of the updated science on concussion effects, they absolutely knew what they were getting into. Guys who recently spent 10 seasons slamming into other behemoths are now wondering why their heads hurt, and they don’t see their old million-dollar contracts as enough compensation.

An opportunity in the NFL is absolutely a trade-off for players. They receive the millions, and some of them suffer health issues when they hang up their cleats. If they don’t want to worry about a bum knee when they’re 50, then they can go play softball.

But right now, we can’t stomach such a brutal reality, leading to rule changes like more heavily enforced personal foul penalties and the slow death of the game’s most signature play, the kickoff.

And while these changes seem minimal at the time, they are beginning to accumulate. And the product on the field is nowhere near the beautiful game that was played even 10 years ago. Quarterbacks can’t be hit without a flag. Players are fined inordinate amounts of money for illegal hits. The passing game has essentially become unstoppable.

As fans, we must not forget the single most important element of football: It is a violent game. Football is built on violence, and when the violence is gone, we have no game. The NFL is trying to protect itself business-wise by pretending like it truly cares about the health of former players, but all this legal posturing is translating to the field in a bad way.

The league reaches dangerous territory when it messes with the fundamentals of a game that is so ingrained in our hearts, and the wrong strings are beginning to be pulled in what will be the most defining decade in the sport’s history.

This isn’t “The Hunger Games,” after all; these aren’t poor fellows pulled from a crowd to compete. They chose to enter the league, and they can leave the game whenever they want to.

Three simple steps can solve the problems going on in today’s game — rules 90 percent of the players currently do not follow:

Strap your helmet on tight, put in a mouth guard and play some damn football.

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