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Why Suspend For Big Hits?

October 19, 2010

By now, many of us have heard that the NFL is planning to suspend players who engage in “devastating hits” and “head shots.” As is the norm in today’s media heavy world, everyone has an opinion, and it’s both fun and interesting to hear them. Matt Millen on Monday Night Football and Mike Golic of ESPN’s Mike and Mike Morning Show seem to agree that this rule will cheapen football and will ruin the game. Millen thinks that the rule is “stupid.” Steve Young on MNF and Mike Greenberg of the Mike and Mike Show argued that suspensions are necessary. Trent Dilfer is worried that the physical nature of the game will be taken out. He thinks that the rule is an “absolute joke” and was so worked up that he made up a word in forming his opinion – “gladitorial.” Jorge Sedano on local Miami sports radio argues that the field should be expanded because players are bigger, faster, and stronger. It seems to be a debate between logic and emotion and tradition and reform as is often the case in many debates whether sports, politics, or something as simple as picking a recipe for dinner.

There is a reason for this decision though, and the main reason is business. Every business has a core competency or main focus. For the NFL, that core competency is producing football games. As Justice Holmes stated in the famous case Federal Baseball v. National League, the business of baseball “is giving exhibitions of base ball.” Similarly, the business of football is giving exhibitions of football. It’s not giving exhibitions of cheerleaders, it’s not giving exhibitions of mascots, it’s not giving exhibitions of referees, and it’s definitely not giving exhibitions of concussions. Football’s business is football and every decision must be made to protect that business, that core competency.

The decision to suspend players for “devastating hits” and “head shots” is a decision made to protect football because it keeps players on the field and it keeps fans from turning away from a sport where they must watch people become gravely injured. People do not go to a game or buy NFL Sunday Ticket in order to see an injury like Eric LeGrand’s, the Rutgers player who became paralyzed after a hit last weekend. People go to a game and pay for expensive television packages in order to watch football, and if that means hits that aren’t as “devastating,” then they’ll get used to it. Sure, we love watching people get hit hard, but now that we know the repercussions of hits to the head, we cringe when they occur. No longer do fans watch a game and blow off concussions. Even the casual fan knows the medical studies that have shown the scary long-term effects of concussions. Times have changed and the fan has changed.

The NFL is a smart business. They know that people like to see hits, so a “devastating” hit will truly be a “devastating” hit. It won’t be a body shot like Dunta Robinson’s. It will be a shot like Brandon Meriweather’s or maybe a forearm to the head like James Harrison’s. In all honesty, the talking heads like Millen, Golic, and Dilfer are having knee jerk reactions. They should calm down and see what the NFL plans to regulate before worrying about the demise of football.

The NFL is doing what any smart business should do. They have defined their core competency, and now they’re protecting it. The nuances of the core competency will be defined as the league moves forward, but it can’t risk inaction in order to appease former players.

– Jason Sosnovsky

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