x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A shake up in the NFL

A debate about concussions in American football raises a question: when is too much protection a bad thing?

With kickoff on Wednesday, the National Football League in the United States gets underway with the Dallas Cowboys facing the New York Giants. And at some point during the game an offensive player, most likely a running back, will be slammed to the turf with such force that he'll have a hard time getting to his feet. The crowd, predictably, will roar its approval.

American football is bone-crushing - that's part of the appeal. But the element that has made the game popular has also made it vulnerable. Players suffering from concussion-related ailments have committed suicide, and lawsuits filed by ex-players seek compensation from the league. The question, increasingly, is how to make the game safer.

Instinct suggests better, thicker padding is what's needed to protect players. But "protection" breeds risk-taking behaviour. American football players are only able to level those crowd-pleasing hits because they're wearing veritable suits of armour.

So perhaps less is more. Leather caps were standard gear in the early 1900s, when head-on-head collisions were rare. If the game can't police itself, the many players who are suing the league may have a point. Or, perhaps it's time to switch to rugby.