Editorial: Sendejo’s statement harsh, but on point

Published 9:42 pm Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Make football violent again.

These four words may have been a play of president Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, but when Minnesota Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo showed up to one of the team’s training camp days with the statement on a hat, many fans applauded.

Over the past two decades, the National Football League, according to several 20-plus year fans, has gotten soft. The implementation of rules that, according to the league, has made the game safer has washed away the action that many football fans crave. Every year, the NFL Rules Committee alters, adds or eliminates rules from a game that is already must-see TV. Something that has surpassed the national pastime in becoming America’s sport.

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Sendejo’s declaration is in response to the new rule that makes it a penalty anytime a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with the helmet on an opponent. The rule isn’t just specific to an opponent’s head or neck, but to their entire body. An infraction from the rule can result in a 15-yard penalty or ejection of the player who commits the blow.

Sendejo’s sartorial response was followed by a Twitter photo of the Viking with a facemask on the crown of his helmet stating he “made alterations so I’m always leading with my facemask.”

But although Sendejo’s statement is a sentiment held by old-school fans and several players that were taught a different way, the message may have been too strongly worded for newer fans and parents who love the sport but worry about their children developing life-altering brain trauma from playing football. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has opened up the public’s, players’, coaches’ and advertisers’ eyes to what those hard hits could potentially do to gridiron heroes.

Several legends of the game have suffered symptoms from their years of playing football. Depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, short-term memory loss, addiction and suicide have been attributed to CTE.  The Journal of the American Medical Association published in 2017 a survey of 202 brains of deceased individuals who played football, with 111 of them being professional players. Only one of the brains tested for CTE came back negative.

The National Football League has tried to turn over a new leaf by funding the Heads Up Football program that helps instruct younger players the proper way of tackling. The program may not see immediate impact at the professional level, but it is a small start that will hopefully carry over into the future of the game.

Another move by the NFL is to award teams for taking a touchback, giving teams the ball at the 25-yard line rather than the 20. Collisions between blockers on the return team and those attempting to make a tackle are at a higher velocity than those in most of the game. By eliminating these types of collisions, the NFL is hoping to make the game safer — but at what cost?

Although the league continues to attempt to decrease concussions and injuries, it is hard to ignore that the NFL has profited from the same thing they are trying to fix. Big-hit videos produced by the league were a staple for many years and highlights of linebackers laying out wide receivers or defensive ends blindsiding quarterbacks garnered All-Pro status for those who made the hit.

The NFL may be standing at the precipice of whether the game will continue to see success or not. Constant tinkering with the rules has turned diehard fans off, while the threat of concussions still looms over the sport. The league will need to make a decision sooner, rather than later, if the risk of injury and potential long-term brain damage is worth continuing rule alterations for safety or if they will accept that the sport is violent and understand the risks that are associated with profiting from that type of sport.

While players, fans and coaches want a safer game, it may not be possible. Football is an inherently violent sport and cannot be modified to lessen the likelihood of serious injuries. Tinkering with the rules may not achieve that in any event.