Lem Barney's not new to the "anti-football" movement. Last March, he claimed that had he known how serious concussions are, he'd never have played in the NFL.
This year, he's upped the ante a bit to saying the NFL won't exist in "ten to twenty years." Current player Bernard Pollard actually jumped to the front of this wagon by saying the NFL won't exist in twenty-to-thirty years in this offseason.
"The game is becoming more deadly today," he said. "It's a great game. I think it's the greatest game if you like gladiators. It's the greatest game for yesteryear's gladiators. But I can see in the next 10 to maybe 20 years, society will alleviate football altogether."
I don't think anyone would contest that concussions and injuries are anything but serious business. But they won't kill the sport of football.
For one, the money's too good. If it weren't, Pollard would have up and retired. But no, here were his comments when he said football wouldn't exist:
"If somebody is going to get a knockout shot, OK, at some point somebody is going to get hit anyway. If you end up getting knocked out because you're trying to get a knockout shot, it's either kill or be killed. Which one are you going to do? This is football. It's not powder puff. When Nike unveiled their new uniforms, I'm surprised they didn't have flags on the side. This is what needs to be right now. You're taking away the game of football. If a quarterback throws an interception, get his butt down or run to the sidelines. If you're going to try to make a tackle, I'm going to look for you. I promise you I'm going to look for you."
"I know what my body has been through," Pollard said. "I'm 27 years old. I take care of myself, but it's a violent sport. I don't want him to have go through it. I don't want to see my son with a concussion."
Certainly noble, Bernard, to not want to see your kid go through what you're voluntarily going through to keep collecting those big NFL checks, which will pay you two million bucks this season when you chose to sign with the Titans after getting cut by the Ravens.
Barney's point is that the violence of the older game has its charm, but the game is growing too violent. To which I say, you have seen an MMA fight, which has all but replaced boxing, right?
If their point is that the game won't be the same as it is today, well, no crap. The game evolves, it will continue to evolve, and eventually it will evolve further in attempts to make the game safer. Equipment will change, rules will change. (Whether they actually do make the game safer is another thing.)
Player mindsets, though, may not, at least not at the rate players in general are getting bigger, stronger and faster. Especially with Pollard's mindset of "hit it if it moves".
It's hard to deny that football is a physical sport built around effort, strength, speed and strategy. It absolutely can be violent and hard-hitting. I don't recall it ever involving a requirement to intentionally injure players or try to remove a player's head.
You build the game by teaching proper fundamentals and making sure those fundamentals carry through into the professional ranks. And that goes with any sport. Injuries can happen in any athletic environment, including concussions and especially including CTE long-term. You can't remove all injury risk. If it were possible, I'm sure it'd be done by now. Yes, players choose to play the game with the risks currently in place. That's not a license to not find ways to reduce the injury risk.
So you might be right, Pollard, in that football may not exist in the way you remember it. It could be made to have less of an injury risk, or it could even be driven to be more violent. If the game's going to get safer, player mindsets have to change as well as the safety rules. And if the mindsets won't change, then, well, Pollard's still in the NFL - there will be players.
But football at its core will persist. As it should.