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Eliminating kick offs in NFL will help make American football safer

Commissioner Roger Goodell's suggestion will invite both debate and ridicule but it is worth consideration as it will reduce injuries in the contact sport.

Josh Cribbs, No 16, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver, runs the ball on a kick off return against the Baltimore Ravens in the first half of their game in Cleveland. Cribbs does not like the possibility that the NFL will replace the kick off, but our columnist explains why the commissioner Roger Goodell is right to suggest so. Rick Osentoski / AP Photo
Josh Cribbs, No 16, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver, runs the ball on a kick off return against the Baltimore Ravens in the first half of their game in Cleveland. Cribbs does not like the possibility that the NFL will replace the kick off, but our columnist explains why the commissioner Roger Goodell is right to suggest so. Rick Osentoski / AP Photo

NFL devotees have their shorts in a bunch over a notion floated by commissioner Roger Goodell to eject all kick offs from games. They view the play as an integral facet and worry about a perceived wussification of their beloved sport.

Prepare for it and more, people. Goodell's legacy will be instituting heretofore unimaginable reforms to inject more safety measures into an inherently violent activity.

As much as kick offs are relished for their high-speed thrills and chills, they are dangerous. It is hardly coincidence that the shift from the 30 to the 35-yard line has resulted in substantially more touchbacks and fewer concussions. (A blocking rules change was a secondary factor.)

At first glance, a suggestion by Greg Schiano, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach, to replace kick offs with an option for the scoring team to punt or attempt an offensive play at fourth-and-15 to retain possession sounds too radical for adoption.

But there is no idea extreme enough to enter the discussion.

New York City was ridiculed for outlawing the sale of large, sugary soft drinks by critics who say the ban is a drop in the bucket (or supersized cup) in the fight against obesity and diabetes.

The idea of eliminating kick offs invites the same mockery.

But, same as with sodas, a safer sport to extend healthier lives will be achieved in small, incremental steps, not with a finger-snap. Because the numbers do not lie, this is one worth considering.

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