New York Giants rookie David Wilson electrified a home crowd Sunday with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a play guaranteed to get even opposing fans jumping up and down in excitement, even if it is to scream for better tackling.
New York Giants rookie David Wilson electrified a home crowd Sunday with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a play guaranteed to get even opposing fans jumping up and down in excitement, even if it is to scream for better tackling. Under a new proposal to be discussed during the offseason, that play may not happen anymore in the NFL. In an ongoing desire to improve player safety, it was announced this week by Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay that the league’s competition committee will consider the idea of eliminating kickoffs this offseason. Similar to the move in 2011 to move kickoffs up to the 35-yard line, concussions and injuries are the sighted reasoning behind the coming discussion. “We just moved the kickoff 5 yards to reduce kickoff returns, but it was because we really couldn't come up with a better way where we knew we could move the needle on the injury number and on the concussion number,” McKay, the committee's chairman, told the Associated Press. “That doesn't mean somebody won't have a more creative way to deal with it in the evolution of it.” And someone has offered such a creative alternative in the form of Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, who suggested giving the team that normally would kick off the option of punting from its 30-yard line or, instead, going for a first down on fourth-and-15. McKay said the increase in touchbacks under the new rule would be secondary to safety concerns. “I have no question that when get to the offseason that idea will be fully vetted,” McKay said. “When we talk about the kickoff play, one thing we try to do a good job of as a membership is letting the data and the tape, meaning the way the game is played, drive the decision as opposed to the emotion of the moment.” That is a mindset that will, undoubtedly, create friction between the league and fans, who clamor on social media and radio call-in shows for kickoffs to return back to the 30-yard line. One can only imagine the seven-second delay will get a workout when this particular proposal is discussed on-air. The argument will be, inevitably, that the “No Fun League” is striking again, trying to suck the enjoyment out of the game for the thousands of fans who pack each stadium every week to watch their favorite team of warriors battle it out on the gridiron. Which is part of why the NFL, rightly, is taking the steps they are. Last month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke at the Harvard School of Public Health, claiming a cultural shift was needed to change that “warrior mentality” of players who refuse to disclose when they are hurt. They do what has been ingrained in them since pee-wee league football, in that they “tough it out.” It’s one thing to do so with a relatively minor injury, such as a jammed finger, but players, of all levels, need to be re-taught to take possible head injuries as seriously as possible. The Centers for Disease Control revealed recently that 1.6 million to 3.8 million concussions will occur each year, with 5 to 10 percent of athletes experiencing one in any given sport season. The independent Sports Concussion Institute, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of concussions in sports, states that football is the most common sport with concussion risk for males, with a 75 percent chance for concussion. To highlight the seriousness of concussions and how they can alter a player, one needs only look at Kansas State’s Collin Klein. Now, it has never been confirmed by Bill Snyder and K-State that Klein suffered a head injury, but the reports of the prolific quarterback being unable to remember the entirety of a drive in which he scored a touchdown moments after it occurred definitely speak to the possibility, if not probability. His play the next couple of weeks, including the loss to Baylor, showed a less confident, mistake prone player, a sharp turnaround from the man many had tipped to win the Heisman. Is eliminating kickoffs from the NFL really the way to cut down on concussions in professional football? I don’t know that anyone really has the answer to that, but if it helps keep players from suffering from the ill-effects of numerous concussions, then it is definitely worth looking into.