Published March 15, 2013
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – History tells us that even the strongest of empires will eventually collapse, usually under its own weight.
Take your pick -- whether you study the Ottoman Empire, the Han Dynasty, the Roman Empire or the grandiose British Empire, which once covered a quarter of both the Earth's total land area and population, being too big to fail isn't just a flawed government philosophy, it's almost a brilliant foreshadowing of a breakdown.
Heck, more than a few think the United States, the world's one true superpower since the end of the Cold War, is currently in the midst of an inevitable market correction thanks to mind-numbingly poor leadership over the past two decades.
In the sports world, the NFL is the top dog, an omnipotent, seemingly unstoppable giant.
As members of the media, we have access to endless charts, graphs and tables that conveniently tell us how popular the league is, a $9 billion, television ratings machine.
But you can see the cracks forming in the foundation and instead of addressing them, the NFL is exacerbating them with an overreaction to a public relations- fueled issue regarding player safety.
Most NFL officials still feign ignorance regarding the league's past as it relates to brain trauma, almost a legal necessity since the NFL is currently embroiled in numerous lawsuits filed by former players and their family members.
With an eye of keeping the Golden Goose healthy, commissioner Roger Goodell has turned the subject of player safety into dogma. An unintended consequence of that, however, is that the NFL has become far less enjoyable to watch.
A series of rule changes has toned down the violence and, some say, the excitement of the game.
Thousands of fans will take the moral high ground and claim they don't care as long as their heroes are safe. Far more, however, will slowly move on to something else, realizing they no longer enjoy what was once an indispensable part of their world.
The fall will be slow, but the fall will come -- it's almost assured.
The latest attack on the game in the name of player safety came on Thursday when a rule was proposed by the NFL's competition committee that would make it a foul for a ball carrier to smash into a defender with the crown of his helmet in open space.
"It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside of the tackle box. Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul."
"This is a pure and simple player safety rule," NFL Competition Committee chair Rich McKay said. "We really think the time has come where we need to address the situation in space where a runner or a tackler has a choice of how to approach his opponent."
To most, it's an almost comical watering down of the actual game of football and a step away from putting flags on the hips of the skill players, a rule which wouldn't allow the NFL's MVP, Adrian Peterson, to lower his head in the open field and run over a helpless cornerback.
"I disagree with the rule altogether. It doesn't make any sense for that position," Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, told Dallas radio station 105.3 FM. "It sounds like it's been made up by people who have never played the game of football."
Pressed, Smith explained his opinion.
"If I'm a running back and I'm running into a linebacker, you're telling me I have to keep my head up so he can take my chin off?" the former All-Pro said. "You've absolutely lost your mind.
"As a running back, it's almost impossible (to not lower your head). The first thing you do is get behind your shoulder pads. That means you're leaning forward and the first part of contact that's going to take place is your head, regardless."
Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a member of the committee, disagreed:
"The ball carrier is still going to be permitted to lower his shoulder, and the head is also going to come down to protect the football. We're not taking that part of the run out of the game. What we're saying is, in space, one-on-one, head-up, we're not going to allow you to load up and use the crown of your helmet. It's an obvious thing."
The competition committee will propose this change to NFL owners at league meetings next week. At least 24 votes from 32 owners are required for passage, and most believe there are enough lucid owners to strike this down.
To even get to this point says a lot, though. The NFL is perilously close to legislating its game into a drudging, colorless affair, devoid of the controlled violence that sustained and even nourished its popularity.
"(Injuries and violence), that's part of the game," Smith said. "I don't know how you're going to be able to enforce that rule without really jeopardizing the integrity of the game itself."
It's simple -- you can't.