The State of the NFL: Bob Costas’s Town Hall Meeting

Posted: February 3, 2012 in Football

I am following a number of political stories at the moment, including the Republican primary and the hot mess of the candidates, but the recent development of the NBC Sports network spawned a program that caught my attention. Bob Costas, in a effort to start promoting this new network, was involved in a town hall-like meeting in Indianapolis to bring together a collection of players, coaches and owners to discuss a number of aspects of the NFL. It was like the State of the Union but for professional football. What was truly intriguing about this venue was the openness that some of the guests provided to truly state their opinions on some of the most significant stories of the time.

I thought I might reflect on the comments of the panelists and add a little of my own flair to the conversation…

Safety: As one of the most significant conversations of the evening, safety (particularly related to concussions) was an ongoing discussion point. Multiple panels were brought on stage to discuss this specific issue. One of the conflicting points that was significant in the player discussions was in the hard hits being an acceptable factor of the game and the need to focus more on protecting the longterm health of the players. Rodney Harrison, who was most vocal during the short online portion of the program, used Peyton Manning’s current situation to discuss the need to know when to walk away. In reference to Manning, he highlighted the future media career would be more enjoyable if he were choose health over pushing his way back into the game. Speaking from his own experience, he discussed how his concussions have left with with ongoing soreness, headaches and nausea that will continue to plague him for the remainder of his life.

I certainly would have the agree with the players who sided with wanting to truly promote safety because I feel horrible about the quality of life some of these men experience after retirement (even with the millions of dollars they have stored away). Jerry Jones talked about how the reunion of players at his alma mater looked like a collection of injured war veterans. While the game is physical and the risks are known, there has to be a balance between maintaining the purity of the game and keeping the players from destroying their careers and the remainder of their lives. Helmet to helmet hits need to be examined across all positions, as well as defenseless tackles. Certainly a monster tackle can excite the fans, but some of them are completely unnecessary and do more damage than benefit toward a team’s goals.

It was quite interesting that there were players like Jamal Lewis and Jeff Saturday who were more than willing to step up and promote the need for better protections, but others like Philip Rivers who defended the defensive players and simply called the hits a part of the game. It is important for the players to find themselves on more of the same page so that they can be active and effective members at the bargaining table and negotiate the changes to preserve the energy, excitement and safety elements of the game.

HGH: While the conversation about this diminished in comparison with the lockout and the potential change with the length of the NFL season, this is an issue that deserves to be concluded in the very near future. Controversy has been associated with the attempts to test the players because of the possible destruction of a player’s career if discovered positive. Roger Goodell and some of the players were all for the completion of the discussions and start of the testing, but the conversation also proved inconclusive and avoidant with the concern that the test is accurate ONLY 99.99% of the time. Jeff Saturday actually said that he would love for players on the drug to be removed immediately and all of the panelists admitted that there are players currently using it, though no names were highlighted. The game is already high energy and high impact without the use of drugs to enhance players’ physical abilities.

Effects of Violence Beyond NFL: Costas spent a bit of time on the connections between the actions and comments in the NFL regarding defensive players and the desire to lay the big hit to knock out players. Connected with the concussion discussion, Rivers and John Harbaugh actually defended the defensive players by saying the comments were only words and not representative of their intentions on the field. The problem that Costas highlighted and was supported through several of the panelists was the effect on the college, high school and little league programs. Kids emulate the actions and comments of the professional players. They also play the game with less protective equipment and oversight. In order to make the game for younger generations safer to play, the NFL does need to continue to look at the message the current state of the NFL is sending to young people.

Personal Mistakes: While not one of the more serious conversation points, the players and coaches were asked about some of the mistake made during their careers. For Rodney Harrison, he was certainly poked at for the David Tyree catch during the Superbowl. Tony Dungy recalled his own Superbowl mistake when he allowed his special teams the opportunity to return a kick for a touchdown only 13 seconds into the game. The conversation was greatest with the coaches as they were challenged on the expectations of fans and the play-calling toward the end of games. Do you call a timeout with 2:02 left in the 4th quarter? Do you run up to the line on first down and spike the ball quickly rather than set up for a 4-yard pass in-bounds on the flat? The reality is that the process of making a decision is toughest when on the field versus in the comfort of one’s living room. I believe that we get frustrated in the moment but need to give the coaches a little slack. If the problem becomes a pattern, the coach may need to be open to a public questioning of their decision-making.

Ticket Sales and HDTV: Going to an NFL game is one of the most exciting experiences a fan can get, but ticket sales have skyrocketed over the history of the league. The Superbowl once cost about $100 per ticket and now a regular game can cost thousands with the invention of the Stubhub reselling system. Television provides more comfort and the ability to not worry about the travel time, traffic and cost of the game. Even still, there were moments throughout the season when games were blacked out, preventing the average fan from both being able to attend in person due to cost and watch at home due to blackouts. The experience of a live game will always beat watching it at home, but the cost differential certainly could dictate whether NFL fans stop trying to go to the stadiums.

The Future of Peyton Manning: While Rodney Harrison provided his thoughts on the subject, Tony Dungy had a special moment to discuss what he hopes to see out of his former player. Manning has certainly solidified himself as a Hall of Fame candidates and eventual member, but the drama with Andrew Luck and Irsay have truly deteriorated Manning’s chance to continue to start for the Colts even if he happens to be healthy. He has said it and Dungy agreed that Manning in any other jersey would be a travesty. If he is truly healthy, Andrew Luck should not dictate whether Manning gets a chance to start in Indianapolis again and the Colts should not dictate whether Manning gets to go out in embarrassment or have a chance to get one more go. Rodgers sat behind Favre and learned the pro game before taking the reigns. There needs to be an evaluation with rookie quarterbacks to determine the needs of the team and the talent they currently have. When Jimmy Clausen entered the NFL, he was not immediately thrown into the driver’s seat but he turned out to be a bust anyway. Blaine Gabbert, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton were started because of necessity but not every team takes this approach. We will potentially find out next week what Manning’s fate will be but I hope that it truly appreciates his health in the process.

Besides the topics highlighted above, Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft represented the owners and both struggled to present themselves well. Jones, in particular, truly failed when talking about the ticket prices and experience in the stadium. While he tried to explain his views, it sounded more like a jumbled mess of extra words and no point. He was more avoidant of all of his questions than actually provide reasonable responses.

There is probably no risk of a lockout for next season, but the league has a lot of issues left to tackle and hopefully can continue to preserve America’s top sport for all people to enjoy.

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