By Benjamin Block
Similar to a punishing hit delivered after the whistle, Thursday Night Football is unnecessary and dangerous.
In the days preceding Seattle’s 24-3 rout of the Los Angeles Rams last week, the latest unwatchable mid-week contest, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman alleged that playing on three days’ rest, instead of the normal six, contradicts the league’s stance on player safety.
The all-world defensive back went on to call the NFL “hypocritical.”
Sherman further articulated his message in a personal entry for the Players’ Tribune, claiming “I just don’t understand why the NFL says it’s taking a stand on player safety, then increases the risks its players face by making them play on Thursday, before their bodies are ready.”
I know why, and so do you. It comes down to money and ratings.
Sherman’s criticism of the suits perched in their league office ivory Park Avenue tower is spot on.
Requiring finely tuned professional football players that thrive on routine to be ready to play on a Thursday after a Sunday absolutely discredits the NFL’s concern for its players’ safety.
Furthermore, the short-turnaround game has proven to feature poor, sloppy and dangerous play. And now the stakes are heightened because we’ve reached the part of the season where teams are fighting for the playoffs, with virtually every player battered and bruised to the point where the normal six days of rest aren’t even sufficient.
Yet here comes another Thursday night game. The Giants will look to secure a postseason berth with a win against the reeling Philadelphia Eagles. Compared to Sherman, Big Blue’s star safety, Landon Collins, was much more passive during his protestation last week. He took issue with Thursday’s game coming on the heels of Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions, saying “We’ve got to get in the cold and hot tubs. We’ve got to recover real quick because it’s a quick turnaround.”
Yes, these men get paid too much money to play a game. However, with the league taking away their normal recuperating time, players are putting themselves out there to get unnecessarily hurt. At what cost? Clearly, the Thursday night slot only represents another day of the week for the NFL to “own,” so it can auction off advertising to the highest bidders.
Interestingly enough, this season has been mired in television ratings purgatory, with viewing percentages for prime-time games, such as TNF, down by double digits.
So in short, fans are not tuning in as they used to, but players are still risking their livelihoods for the quick-turnaround game.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wants you to believe that the league cares about the players more than ever. Back in September he penned an open letter to the nearly 200 million NFL fans around the globe, stating that the league has pledged $100 million on top of an existing $100 million toward independent medical research and advancements that will protect players and make the game safer.
The NFL can spend a billion dollars on all the independent research it wants, but for a league that has long been known for its reactive-versus-proactive reputation, it can’t just throw money at this particular issue.
One improvement has been the implementation of spotters in booths high above the fields who watch for players that may be showing signs of a concussion. While they can communicate to doctors and trainers on the field that may not notice what the spotters have seen from their unblocked vantage point, all the NFL’s medical research allocated funding won’t guarantee trainers and doctors misdiagnosing players’ head-related injuries.
Retired tight end Ben Utecht just released a book, “Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away.” In it he documents an existing problem that challenges the NFL’s approach to cushioning the dangers of the game.
During the 2009 preseason, while playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, Utecht suffered his fifth major concussion. It was serious enough that a Bengals team doctor advised him to retire. Utecht tried to return, but experienced blackouts, headaches and other post-concussion symptoms. Despite those health concerns, he recalled that the same doctor that initially advised him to retire later declared him eligible to return, which subsequently allowed the Bengals to release him.
The NFL is too powerful a business, and ridding the mid-week national game would be a bad financial move in its mind. But throwing money into research that will supposedly find ways to enhance player safety hasn’t, and won’t, entirely solve the problem.
Real supplementary change needs to occur. It’s time to eliminate Thursday Night Football, and all the dangers surrounding it. The on-field product will improve, if indeed the NFL actually cares about that.
Follow Benjamin on Twitter at @benjaminblock21