x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Banging heads against a wall

Thursdays bring a weekly reminder that the NFL's actual concern lies somewhere between incomplete and insincere.

Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, has defended the Thursday games.
Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, has defended the Thursday games.

By upholding the suspensions of New Orleans' two primary uniformed culprits in the Bountygate disgrace, Roger Goodell sent out another signal this week that the NFL cares about player health and safety.

Besides the commissioner's zealous crackdown on the Saints' pay-to-injure programme, he has established an anonymous hotline for whistle-blowers of similar schemes, installed a protocol for potentially concussive hits that remove athletes from action until medically cleared and, at least for now, shelved a campaign to stretch the regular season to 18 games apiece.

Sounds impressive, right?

But Thursdays bring a weekly reminder that the NFL's actual concern lies somewhere between incomplete and insincere. On 13 midweek nights per season, plus two Thanksgiving Day afternoon games, too many teams buckle their helmets too soon.

There is a circadian rhythm for these athletes: a game on Sunday; meetings on Monday while physically recovering; mind and body rehabilitation on Tuesday; practice the next three days; a walk-through and relaxation (and possibly travel) on Saturday, another game on Sunday.

That rhythm is interrupted with these Thursday abominations. Players, many of whom say it takes up to five days for their bodies to expel the lingering pain from a game, tend to loathe them.

Some deploy a form of self-hypnosis to buy in.

As the lone game that day, the nation's eyes are on us. So what? You cannot get hurt with a viewing audience of fewer millions on Sundays?

We are given the following weekend off. Whoopee. You will need it - and then some - to mend from two games in a brutally brief time frame.

In defending the Thursday games, the league would point to a lack of evidence on a higher rate of injuries. (Which neither proves nor disproves any difference from Sundays.)

As an aside, the NFL surely would dismiss the notion of sloppier, less efficient play on Thursdays as a false impression. Your eyes are not lying to your brain. They are often substandard.

Until last season, this misguided concept was confined to the back half of the schedule. It began in 2006 with five per year. Then, like a spreading fungus, it grew to eight.

The driving force was (and remains) the NFL Network, a television station that devotes all day, every day, showing old action footage, interspersed with news reports and talking heads opining endlessly on games both recent and upcoming.

To break up the monotony the league turned the Thursday night games into regularly scheduled programming.

While some fans would no doubt endorse spreading out games throughout the week, thus coming closer to satisfy their ravenous appetite for football, there is some concern among the sane that other weeknights will be considered.

Hear this from the 11-year veteran Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens: "I never liked it when the Thursday night game came out. It's all about money ... It's out of my hands."

Well, not entirely. Reed belongs to the Players' Association, which did not raise a peep about the midweek expansion. The union apparently is too busy squawking about the penalties issued to the offending Saints. Never mind that those miscreants endeavoured to inflict pain on fellow members.

On one level, the Thursday series makes sense. Like film trailers at the cinema that precede the full-length feature, it stokes the fires for what is ahead on weekends.

But for the league to demonstrate its regard for players' well-being on all fronts, it must, at minimum, grant byes to as many teams as possible on the weekends before these gigs.

Better yet, it should just say "no way" to Thursday.


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