I need a time-out from the commotion and craziness of the past few weeks. The world of sports provides us with a wonderful escape from the stark realities of the day. Although it may not be true in today’s political universe, athletic events usually have an underlying basis to their rules and regulations. Once an avid New York Giants fan, my attraction to the sport waned many years ago. However, during the playoffs, at the end of the season, my interest perks up.
Because I am much more into baseball than football, I have not paid too much attention to rule changes in professional football. However, a noticeable development in the game did not make a lot of sense to me: The kickoff and its return. Way back in the ‘50’s, the kickoff would be at the 40-yard line of the team kicking the ball. If the ball went into the endzone and was not returned, play would begin at the 20-yard line of the receiving team. Because the performance of athletes has improved over time due to better exercise routines, better equipment and greater strength, the kickoff would wind up deep in the endzone with no return. This eliminated the possibility of a return that had been viewed as one of the most exciting plays in a football contest.
Apparently, the line of scrimmage (where the ball is kicked from) at one time had been pushed back to the 30-yard line in professional football making runbacks much more probable by the receiving squad. However, subsequently, the line of scrimmage was moved up to the 35-yard line, once more, resulting in many kickoffs again not to be returned. But additionally, if the ball was not returned (in both college and pro football), it automatically came out to the 25-yard line, 5 yards further than previously. Because it is harder to reach the 25-yard line on a return, this reduced the incentive to run back a kickoff. Furthermore, balls that were fielded in play (that is on the playing field and not in the endzone) had to be returned. Now, however, these balls could be caught in play and not returned, moving the ball, once more up to the 25-yard line.
When players choose not to return the ball, thereby, bringing the ball up to the 25-yard line, a potentially exciting play occurs much less frequently. I decided to ask my cousin, Mike Natelson, who is a sports enthusiast, why the kickoff return had been eliminated. His answer, unlike recent political events, made sense: The kickoff return resulted in more injuries than any other play. Huge guys running at full speed for 60 to 70 yards make a big impact when they hit or tackle the return player. By reducing the number of football returns in each game there is less likely to be an accident.
Football is indeed a dangerous sport. But now that management can no longer deny the risks to body and brain that result from the game, they are taking some important precautionary measures. In most cases, apparent contradictions or inconsistencies can be understood if one takes the time to investigate them. However, often human emotions take precedence over reason blinding us to best solutions. One need not look further than at the many crises and gridlock we currently face in the political arena but this is grist for another essay.