Blogs & Opinion


Kick it out

Outlawing punt returns will keep players safer, says Alex

Alex Ferguson Posted 11th May 2012 view comments

I love the NFL.

It's green versus blue, black versus red, white versus orange. It's a battle of feet, inches, yards. It's a battle of the best players of a brutal business. It's Any Given Sunday. It's the Waterboy. It's the cheerleaders.

Bell: guard recently quit the sport due to a series of concussions

Bell: guard recently quit the sport due to a series of concussions

Millions of people in stadiums around the country watch the gladiatorial battles every week, and tens of millions more watch it around the world.

And when the Final Day comes, there's no bigger game in the world of sport - and recently, the Super Bowl has exceeded expectations in terms of excitement, sub-plot, and angry supermodel wives.

People might say it's "part of the game" but I'm sure Eric LeGrand would swap every touchdown he'd ever seen for the full use of his body.

Alex Ferguson
Quotes of the week

At the moment, the league has a problem. It's called image. Players and coaches are getting suspended for targeting other players.

The 'Who Dat?' has become the 'Who Did It?', and the questions are getting asked, not only of the players and the coaches, but also the Commissioner for his brutal punishments.

The other part of the problem is concussions - and this cloud isn't going away fast.

Suing

Future Hall of Famer Junior Seau reportedly killed himself - and some are blaming years of smashing helmets for the apparent suicide. Recently, veteran guard Jacob Bell walked away from the game, citing concussions.

"If you're telling me 'I'm seeing stars' is some sort of concussion, then you're getting a couple a week," he told the St Louis Post-Dispatch. "You're going to get a minimum 30 concussions in a season. That just gives you a ballpark figure of what people are truly dealing with."

And 1,000 former NFL players are suing the league, saying that the league didn't properly protect players from concussions.

And to make matters worse for the league, the lead plaintiff is former Washington Redskins wide receiver and Hall of Famer, Art Monk, over short-term memory loss, headaches and speech difficulties.

The problem is this: people are using their helmets as battering rams against other players, and although helmet-to-helmet force is not encouraged (in fact, you can get fined and even banned for such a 'tackle), the constant banging of 300-pound men against each other can't be good for anybody.

In the old days, helmet-to-tackling was acceptable, and even now, players like the Steelers' defensive end James Harrison don't want to be published for an 'over-violent' hit.

Back in 2010, when the rule came out, defensive players railed against it. Yeremiah Bell of the Dolphins said: ""As a defensive player, you have to think about how you hit somebody now, which is totally ridiculous to me. You're trying to get a guy down.

Sometimes you get caught leading with your helmet. When you're going to tackle a guy full speed, you can't really think, 'Oh, I have to hit this guy a certain way.' You have to get him down as best you can. Sometimes it's helmet to helmet, which guys aren't trying to do, but that's just the way it is. It's part of the game."

Ban

But I have got an even bigger idea. Ban kick-offs and ban punt returns. We don't particularly like it, but it might just save players' careers, lives and the sport that we all hold dear.

"Why?" you quite rightly ask. "It'll ruin the chance of getting to see players like Devin Hester and Patrick Peterson do their 'thang'. You'll ruin one of the most exciting moments in sport."

Listen, we're all fine with the kick-off return itself. For crying out loud, we were behind Hester (albeit in the top tier of Dolphins Stadium) when he had his Super Bowl kick-off return touchdown, and we're trying to catch breath just thinking about it.

As Penn State fans, we cheered on Derrick Williams as he returned punts and kick-offs in 2005. After all, his play from those positions turned the Nittany Lions from bad to great in the course of a year.

But we've seen the other side, and it is pretty scary. Players, blocking for their returner, will violently lay out an opposing team member in an effort to give their player an avenue.

The jarring hits, applauded by all the major TV networks (and YouTube) are celebrated with the type of noises we heard from the orangutan pen at London Zoo last week.

They've already claimed too many victims. If you don't know what I'm talking about, ask recent Tampa Bay Buccaneers unrestricted free agent draftee Eric LeGrand.

People might say it's "part of the game" but I'm sure LeGrand would swap every touchdown he'd ever seen for the full use of his body.

Bone-shaking

The NFL will say they are trying. In 2011, they moved the place of kick-offs from the 30 to the 35-yard line. This reduced the amount of return room a player had and we saw more touchbacks than ever before. But it's still scary. And punt returns? They are still big, bone-shaking, and brutal.

We want both scrapped. If you still want to see the kicking part of the game - which is very important tactically - we'll give you it. Kick-offs will stay on the 35-yard line, and punts will happen on fourth down when required.

This is our bit for the 'guys who couldn't play real football' union. But we're going to outlaw the act of 'returning', meaning that you take away a potentially dangerous part of the game.

Will that mean less jobs in the NFL for special teams players? Sure. Will that have a trickle-down effect meaning that less players specialise in 'special teams' in college football, and therefore less players play the game itself? Probably (although most college football teams don't have 'specialist special teams players' apart from the kickers and punters).

But will the practice save limbs, careers and possibly lives? We're certain of that, too.

back to top

Other Blogs:

Latest Posts in :

Alex Ferguson

Clowney's no joke

US sports expert Alex Ferguson profiles Jadeveon Clowney, the biggest defensive pick of the draft....

Alex Ferguson

King James reigns

Alex Ferguson celebrates a wacky, smile-inducing year in US sport - and salutes Miami's LeBron James....

comments

Alex Ferguson

Start your engines!

Alex Ferguson predicts who will triumph in NASCAR's showpiece race, the Daytona 500....

comments

Alex Ferguson

A perfect union?

Alex Ferguson looks at the possible unionisation of college football and how he would handle the issue....

Alex Ferguson

Call of the century

Spacemen Portland pick Bowie over Jordan - Alex Ferguson ranks the biggest decisions in US Sport....

comments

Alex Ferguson

Independence aces

Alex Ferguson kicks off his Independence Day fun by picking his 20 best bits of American sport....

comments

Jamie Carragher

Bruce almighty

Steve Bruce deserves a mention when this year's managerial awards are handed out, says Carra....

Peter Beagrie

An Easter feast

Beags previews the cracking Easter action in the Championship, including games for the top three....

Ed Chamberlin

Van the man?

Ed Chamberlin explains why Tejay van Garderen is capable of plucking the Tour de France's Yellow Jersey....

comments

Martin Tyler

Goal crazy

When did Liverpool last score three without Suarez and Sturridge netting? Martin Tyler has the stats......

0 comments

Will Greenwood

Building momentum

Will Greenwood wants England to lay down a World Cup 2015 marker on their tour to New Zealand....

Dewi Morris

Heart and soul

Dewi Morris looks at a crucial weekend in the Championship as we head towards the play-offs....

Stuart Barnes

Ups and downs

Stuart Barnes says the drama of relegation must be kept in rugby, but the play-offs need changing....

Phil Clarke

To Hull and back

Phil Clarke looks at the mental damage done to Hull FC and Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup....

Rob Lee

Pinky and perky

Rob Lee blogs on his vivid Masters Breakfast attire and the men that made waves at Augusta National....

Paul McGinley

Joy for Jonas?

Jonas Blixt has the short game and heart to win the Masters at Augusta, says Paul McGinley....

0 comments

Barry Cowan

Heavy burden

Great Britain's best Davis Cup since 1986 fails to mask their reliance on Andy Murray, says Barry Cowan....

Barry Cowan

No force without Fab

Britain's Davis Cup quarter-final with Italy rests on the fitness of Fabio Fognini, says Barry Cowan...

Alex Hammond

Going the distance

Marathon entrant Alex Hammond previews the Newbury action and Scottish National meeting at Ayr....

Alex Hammond

Rocky's road

Alex Hammond explains why she is backing Rocky Creek and Lion Na Bearnai at the Grand National....

Andrew Balding

Resting up

Trainer Andrew Balding says On Demand is progressing well - but now needs time to recuperate....

Johnny Nelson

The best of friends

It will be tough but Johnny Nelson expects mates Anthony Crolla and John Murray to serve up a classic....

Glenn McCrory

Manny happy returns

Manny Pacquiao is back to his best and could yet get it on with Floyd Mayweather, says Glenn McCrory....

Johnny Nelson

Delighted for DeGale

James DeGale's Matchroom switch is the perfect move to get him back in the mix, says Johnny Nelson....

View from America

Desperate deals?

Simon Veness reviews a crazy week in the NFL's free agent frenzy, as sides splash out over $1bn....

comments

Neal Foulds

Night at the Circus

Neal Foulds is looking forward to another fun, raucous Snooker Shoot-Out - but can't pick a winner....

comments

Neal Foulds

Simply the best?

Five-time Masters champion Ronnie O'Sullivan may be the best snooker player ever, says Neal Foulds....

comments

Neal Foulds

Four to the fore

Neil Robertson and snooker's other leading lights are pulling clear of the pack, says Neal Foulds....

comments

Kelvin Tatum

The contenders

Kelvin Tatum runs through the teams and riders ahead of the 2014 Elite League Speedway season....

Kelvin Tatum

Kelvin's 2013 Review

Kelvin Tatum salutes Poole's hierarchy and Tai Woffinden in his round-up of the speedway season....

comments

Kelvin Tatum

Rich re-Ward

Poole, and the dynamic Darcy Ward, will wrap up the Elite League title at Perry Barr, says Kelvin Tatum....

comments

Richard Moore

The final curtain

Richard Moore reflects on Sunday's Closing Ceremony to an unforgettable Olympic Games......

comments

Richard Moore

A lasting golden glow

Richard Moore suggests all the British Olympians should visit schools and talk about their experiences....

comments

Richard Moore

Favourite Froome

Richard Moore reveals his predictions for the 100th Tour de France, which starts on Saturday....

comments

Wayne McCullough

Wonderful Davis

Wayne McCullough watched Antonio Rogerio Nogueria take on Phil Davis at UFC Fight Night 24. ...

0 comments

Wayne McCullough

Jones shines bright

Wayne McCullough was highly impressed as the talented Jon Jones made short work of Mauricio Rua....

2 comments

Wayne McCullough

A bloody marvel

Wayne McCullough salutes Diego Sanchez as he edges out Martin Kampmann in a UFC humdinger....

0 comments