In a move sure to have football purists throwing a penalty flag, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has expressed interest in eliminating the kickoff as a way to help protect players from the injuries inherent in high-speed collisions.
In a Time magazine profile
, Goodell explained, “. . . after a touchdown or field goal, instead of kicking off, a team would get the ball on its own 30-yard line, where it’s fourth and 15. The options are either to go for it and try to retain possession, or punt. If you go for it and fall short, the opposing team would take over with good field position. In essence, punts would replace kickoffs, and punts are less susceptible to violent collisions than kickoffs.”
If enacted, the change could reduce the number of catastrophic head and spinal injuries that occur during kickoff returns when players are running at full speed and collide in open field.
The change would also increase the importance of punters and punt returners in the game.
The proposal was first made in 2011 by former Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“In the last 20 years, the size, the speed, and the power of the players has grown so fast,” he told told Sport Illustrated. “The equipment and the bone structure haven't changed very much. Something is going to give, right?”
In the prior season, Schiano watched as Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from tackling another player on a kickoff.
The likely reason behind Goodell’s consideration for the proposal, which he himself describes as “off-the-wall,” is the growing criticism in some circles that the NFL is too violent and too dangerous for its players.
In recent years, players and fans have expressed concerns, particularly in regards to head injuries incurred by players, leading to habitual concussions that over extended periods of time can lead to brain damage.
In some cases, autopsies performed on former football players have shown signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease which can lead to neurobehavioral disorders and bizarre behavior.
In July, an autopsy on Ray Easterling, a former safety for the Atlanta Falcons who committed suicide in April, found he had CTE.
Goodell also acknowledged that the recent tragic murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Javon Belcher played a role in his thinking.
Belcher, who suffered a series of football-related head traumas, battled substance abuse between games, according to friends. They claimed he often combined alcohol with prescription pain-relievers to dull the pain.
The league has already implemented some new kickoff rules by reducing the length of the return by moving kickoffs up five yards to the 35-yard line. High fines, in some cases between $50,000 and $75,000, have been instituted for players who engage in violent and often injurious helmet-to-helmet collisions.
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