The NFL isn't supposed to be broadcasting games of grown men playing tag. NFL football is about tackling. It is a contact sport, at its root a contest of strength and power. To be sure, there is much enjoyment to be had in watching the competing strategies play out, the speed and skill of elite players, and the rhythm of high-speed offenses clashing against the manipulation of the game clock and the effects of fatigue as a game wears on. All of this makes America's favorite sporting event a unique event that can be enjoyed at many levels simultaneously; if you've no appetite for the cerebral stuff, you can at least enjoy the hard hits and the circus-stunt catches.
It is, of course, entertainment -- ultimately, it is meaningless; it matters little to the day-to-day lives of nearly everyone whether the Chicago Bears or the Green Bay Packers win the NFC North division and thereby gain an automatic bid to the playoffs. But that means that if this endeavor called professional football is going to succeed, it's supposed to be fun to watch. It was bad enough when the NFL began fining and penalizing players for "orchestrated touchdown celebrations." Those goofy touchdown dances are fun. Come to think of it, it's fun (in a different way) to get mad at the players on other teams for partying against your guys. The fun stuff is what draws fans into the stands, what draws them to tune in on TV and make the advertisers willing to pay premium prices to hawk their products during time-outs and breaks in the action, and therefore that's what makes NFL football so profitable.
Instead, it's wimping out and threatening to penalize -- including fining and suspending -- players who hit each other hard and risk injuring their opponent. There is an inherent risk of injury in this sport, and all sports. People agree to do it anyway -- they compete and dedicate their entire lives to giving themselves even an opportunity to do it, because there is a tremendous audience for it -- and it's fun. I don't mean to suggest that the NFL should go back to the days of leather helmets, no pads, and adopt an eye-gouging rule. There should be reasonable ways to protect players from unnecessary and avoidable kinds of harm. I like that the players wear well-designed helmets, armor, and that there are particular kinds of maneuvers and stunts that are not permitted. It's a fine line to draw as to what kinds of methods of forcing your opponent to the ground should be permitted and what should not be. The guys who run the show need to do what is reasonable and appropriate to prevent injuries -- but they also need to bear in mind that we're talking about tackle football. There are going to be injuries and I thought everyone knew that.
Now, this year, the injuries seem to be taking a particularly hard toll on my beloved Green Bay Packers. Fans from Sheboygan are coming to the game suited up, just in case they're needed in an emergency. But this Packers fan is sanguine about that, because dealing with injuries is part of the game, too. The luck of the draw is that Green Bay has to deal with that problem this year and the organization, as a whole, has to adapt to losing their top running back, their top tight end, a good safety, and a strong offensive lineman, within the course of just over a month of play. It sucks, but you have to deal. (Therein lies a life lesson, by the way.)
Part of the frustration is that I enjoy consuming this entertainment product, and the manufacturer of the product insists on continually taking out the very things in the product that I enjoy the most. Part of it is the frustration of watching a very successful business self-destruct because it just plain doesn't think things through. Football is about tackling, so you have to give the players enough latitude in the rules to actually tackle each other. That's what they came to the stadium to do, that's what the fans paid money at the stadium gate to see, that's the product the NFL is in the business of selling, as surely as Hershey's is in the business of selling sweetened chocolate.
Not letting football players tackle is kind of like banning curve balls in baseball because batters sometimes get hit when pitchers throw curves. This "don't hit the other guys too hard" rule is bound to be the New Coke of Professional Sports.
UPDATE 10/24: This was apparently tweeted out of the Minnesota Vikings' Saturday practice: