America is concerned about the safety of its most popular sport. Public opinion polls show that parents are increasingly squeamish about their children playing football, and that large swathes of the country think that whatever enjoyment comes from the game isn’t worth the damage that it does to players’ brains.
At the same time, football fans are increasingly frustrated by what they see as the NFL watering down the sport they love. That’s been easy to see this week, after the NFL passed its new rule banning lowering the head to initiate contact with the helmet. On social media, fans are outraged that the league would make what it calls a “significant” change to the sport. Even NFL players, the very people whose brains the NFL is trying to protect with this new rule, have largely reacted negatively.
The situation with football is not unlike martial arts. When you sign your kids up for martial arts, you want them going to a karate school where they learn the techniques without ever getting hit in the face. But when you watch martial arts on TV, you want a UFC fight where two jacked dudes throw haymakers at each other until one of them gets knocked out.
If the NFL isn’t careful, this new rule against lowering the head could be the perfect marketing ploy for a rival league, such as the Alliance of American Football, which plans to begin play in 2019, or the second coming of the XFL, which plans to start in 2020. A rival league could say that it still plays football the way football was meant to be played, while the NFL has fundamentally changed the game.
A fundamental change to the game is something millions of Americans want to see at the youth level — and millions of Americans don’t want to see at the professional level.
“I don’t know a ton [about any changes to the offense], but I’ve really enjoyed Bill Lazor being there,” Dalton said last week. “I know he’s got a plan for us and a plan of how he wants to do things. So for him obviously taking over in the third week last year, he didn’t have a chance to really put his stamp on everything. He was kind of evolving what we were doing. Now it’ll be a chance for him to have a full offseason, full OTAs, training camp to put his stuff in and to do it how he wants to do it. I’m looking forward to that.”
The Bengals went to the playoffs Dalton’s first five seasons, though they lost in the wild-card round all five seasons. They slipped to 6-9-1 in 2016 and 7-9 last season.
But Dalton believes the Bengals are close to getting back to where they were.