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To cope with the increased danger of playing football, many players, at least in the pro leagues, have begun to use some protection on their arms. You see shoulder pads that are built out to cover the upper arm, and a lot of players regularly tape cardboard adhesive rollers, split lengthwise, to their forearms before each game. These devices aren't weapons; they are for the protection of an arm that's used all day in blocking.
If you still have doubts, take a close look at the next professional team you see in action. You'll notice that almost all the linemen wear noseguards or masks. It isn't, as it used to be, because they are protecting injuries. It's because they don't want to be injured. You'll see more of this in pro ball than in high school and college games, but for two reasons only. The younger players haven't wised up yet, and there's a silly stigma against wearing a mask in high school or college unless you have been injured.
While you're taking that close look at a pro team, observe one other thing. Watch closely when a man is tackled; watch how quickly he covers his face with his free arm. That simple motion?covering up?has become almost a classic gesture in pro football in recent years. In the 49er game last year, I forgot to cover up and the fact that I was out of bounds made no difference. You have to be awake every second the way football is played these days.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not bellyaching about rough treatment. I've been lucky. In 18 years of football I've had only a few injuries, none of them serious. But I'm concerned about the future of the game, and unless some of the unnecessary roughness and open viciousness stops, that future looks black to me. Some of the kids you see carried from a field on Saturday and Sunday turn out on Monday to have been seriously hurt, and most of it is strictly unnecessary.
No one objects to tough, hard football. The fact is there are always fewer injuries when it's played that way by both teams. It's the extra swipe in the face, the extra twist of the ankle, the completely unnecessary piling on after a ball carrier is definitely down or out of bounds that I'm talking about.
A FEW FOR THE MANY
I don't want to sound as though all, or even most, players are dirty. I know for a fact they aren't. But in football, as in everything, there are always a few who won't play by the rules if they think they can get away with it. And with the tremendous emphasis on winning that exists today, there's an open invitation to those few to use any method, fair or foul, to win.
What can be done to stop this increasing emphasis on dirty football? In pro ball, there's one change that I think would make a big difference: get rid of the rule that allows a ball carrier to get up after being tackled. Adopt the college football dead-ball rule, and you'll put an immediate stop to some of the carnage that goes on in the name of "making sure he didn't get up."
In all football?professional, college and high school?I think the officials ought to clamp down and start calling every single infraction they see involving the illegal use of hands, arms and elbows. Make the penalty drastic. Throw the offenders out of the game. Some officials have been far too lax about this, perhaps because they're afraid of spoiling things for the spectators. I've heard them say, "If I called all I saw, the game would take hours longer and there wouldn't be enough players on either team to finish it." That's an exaggeration, but even if it does mean some dull games for a while, the kind of tightening up I'm talking about would result in better, cleaner and probably faster football for everyone once the players got the idea. And they'd get it, all right. In professional football, it costs money when you're thrown out of a game. In college and high school, it can be even more costly in terms of prestige with your fellow students.
I've actually seen a player swing at another and miss, and when the team complained to an official, the answer was, "He didn't hit him." For my dough, that's not important. The intent was obvious. That man should have been removed from the game.