Making Football Safer Makes It Worse

Image by Sam Woolley
Image by Sam Woolley

Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday during the NFL season. Email Drew here. Buy his book here. 


Yes, this is another “What’s wrong with football?” post, but before I go there, let me just state up front that the NFL could devolve into a series of 12-hour bocce matches and I would still watch it. More importantly, I would still DEFEND it from annoying fartsniffers and NBA stans who take every opportunity to bitch about the NFL being bad. Football is Family for me in the sense that I believe that only people who love the sport, like me, get to complain about it. Everyone else, including half the Deadspin staff, can go gargle toilet water. We square on that? Good.

Because these games have sucked lately. Seattle-Arizona was a bad joke that gets beaten into the ground so hard that it eventually turns the corner and becomes funny at the end. I’m not ready declare this some permanent, ongoing trend. The NFL is like SNL: People have bitched about the quality of product longer than most other people have been alive. There will always be injuries, and there will always be shitty quarterbacks, and there will always be the risk of tuning into a primetime game that ends in a 6-6 tie. When I was a kid, one of the most hyped-up regular season NFL games ever was a 1990 MNF matchup between the Niners and Giants that ended 7-3. It was one of the worst games I ever watched despite the fact that the two teams would later meet in the NFC title game (the Giants then went on to win one of the best Super Bowls ever). Sometimes sports are shitty, and that’s the price of doing business when you’re a fan.

But there’s one obvious, undeniable change in the sport that has affected the quality of play, and that is safety. As much as I like to goof on the NFL for being lax in addressing concussions, the fact is that more players are being removed from games than before because of the concussion protocol. Never mind that this protocol can be flawed and confusing, or that the average NFL team follows protocol directions about as well as a five-year-old does the rules of Monopoly. Players are getting pulled more often, and the players getting pulled are usually the ones playing the most high-profile positions (QB, RB, WR), because those are the players who are most often caught in defenseless positions.

Any time a player gets pulled—regardless of whether or not he’s a superstar—it affects the product you see on the field. Each missing player is a paper cut on the NFL’s bloated body. The competition is at its best when A) The best players are playing and B) Players out on the field know what the fuck they’re doing. So when a guy gets taken out of a game for any reason, not only is the talent pool diluted a touch, but then the guy you send out to replace him is far less likely to have a firm grasp of his assignment (again, I don’t know why NFL teams, still flush with revenue, don’t have multiple coaching units to give backups more reps during game weeks… seems like a decent investment). That means losing a player fucks you on both the front end AND the back.

That has a ripple effect on the rest of the team, and beyond. If one scrub is out there fucking up, other players have to compensate for him, and then THEY get stretched thin, and maybe they get injured in the process. GMs have to scour the waiver wire for bodies. Coaches have to scramble game plans. Fantasy teams get ghosted. And the refs? Holy shit, these refs barely know what’s in the rule book anymore. In its quest to convince us that it is trying to protect players from injury, the NFL has muddled to rulebook to the point where every ref has their own particular strike zone for late hits and head shots. And when the refs are inconsistent, the players are less certain of what they can and cannot do out on the field, which makes them confused, which means they fuck up. No wonder guys are retiring early. It’s chaos out there.

This represents an unsolvable problem for the NFL. I don’t want players to get killed. I don’t want them drooling oatmeal at age 50. No one does. But, as we’ve said here before, it’s nearly impossible to legislate violence out of a sport that is inherently violent. It’s uncomfortable to say this, but the NFL viewing product is clearly better when concussed players skip out on the protocol and stagger back onto the field. The NFL used to allow (or, more accurately, encourage) players to do this with impunity, because brain injuries are insidious and do the most damage long after a player has retired, long after his entertainment value has been fully extracted.


That is no longer socially or morally acceptable. I guarantee you that, if the NFL had its druthers, it would just go back to 1975 and pretend concussions and drugs and wife beating didn’t exist. But they can’t do that, and so the only way to make games both safer and more watchable is to change the sport at such a fundamental level that it may not even be football anymore. And they’ll never do that because they’d rather lose casual fans than diehards like me, the people who will tune in no matter how warped and garbled the product may be. If it’s a choice between no football and mildly safer (but terrible) football, I already know what choice I’m making. And the NFL knows it, too.

The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.



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Five Throwgasms

Eagles at Cowboys: Regardless of whether or not the Cowboys start Dak Prescott for the rest of the season, they’re royally fucked by Tony Romo’s contract, which carries a cap hit of over $23 million for the next three years. They can’t trade Romo, and even if they release him in the offseason, he’ll still have a substantial cap hit spread over the following two seasons. This is why the salary cap is shitty and annoying. In a perfect world, Romo can be traded without restrictions, free to go elsewhere to have his spine severed for good. That’s what would most benefit the viewing public.


Packers at Falcons: If an opposing team gets away with a pass interference penalty on Julio Jones for a third straight game, he IS legally allowed to kill someone. It’s right in the NFL bylaws, I swear.

For real though, with pass interference called so inconsistently, teams are incentivized to hold Jones on every play and dare the refs to call it. I know that’s what I would do if I were a coach. Again, this does not make for fun viewing.


Patriots at Bills: If Rex manages to out-coach Bill Belichick and win this game (he won’t), he takes the rest of the season off. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a coach who is more obsessed with another coach. Rex shut out Belichick earlier this season when the Patriots had no quarterback to speak of and he acted as if he had won the goddamn Super Bowl. Come on, Rex. Stop being so pathetic. I DARE YOU SAY YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH BELICHICK. This team will never get anywhere if you’re so openly thirsty about beating one other guy, especially when half the Patriots have to be dead in order for you to do it.

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Four Throwgasms

Skins at Bengals (London): By the way, despite all my bitching up top, my greatest rules beef is with college football and NOT the NFL. In college games, the clock still stops whenever teams get a first down. This is the fucking dumbest rule in football, and it’s the reason your SEC Game of the Week runs longer than the entire Godfather trilogy. You take that rule and you combine it with teams that run a spread offense and pass 60 times a game, and you have the sum of eternity. They have to fix this. It’s insane. Run the clock while the fat-ass refs move the chains. No one will be adversely affected, and the refs might lose a few pounds in the process. Stop this madness. The more excuses we have to run the clock, the better.


Chargers at Broncos: It’s Halloween on Monday, which means it’s time for me to bust out the fake cobwebs even though I can’t stand them. They’re the fucking worst. I hope these children appreciate the fact that I am willing to overpay for a wad of cotton that will end up wet and mildewy and stuck in the bushes outside our house for nine years. That’s something I impose upon myself just to help get them in the Halloween spirit. Whoever started the trend of using fake cobwebs deserves to be concussed.

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Three Throwgasms

Seahawks at Saints: I know I’m on Twitter too much because any time I take a shit and check the phone and see a piece of breaking news, I then burst out of the bathroom like a town crier and announce the news to all. GUYS! DONALD TRUMP HAS SYPHILIS! I LEARNED THIS WHILE ON THE CAN! HEAR YE, HEAR YE!


Lions at Texans: The Lions are a legitimately fun team to watch, and yet it’s the Texans who have had three primetime games already. And they get two more! Two more fucking nights of Bork Osweiler borking all over the field and looking like the guy who asked your crush to the prom before you had a chance to. I’m gonna be sick. Swap those games out and give me more of slightly less chubby Matt Stafford, pleeeeeez.

Raiders at Bucs: I’ve had a travel a lot lately and it has turned me into Peter King. I have nothing to talk about anymore outside of rental car center quality and airlines that pack seats too close together. GAHHHHHH WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME? I’m five weeks away from tweeting at airlines and restaurants directly. “Kudos to you, @capitalgrille, for the finest crab dip I’ve ever had!” I changed my socks in the airport the other day. Did it right in the middle of the terminal like a savage. This is what excessive travel does to a middle-aged man. SAVE YOURSELVES.


Chiefs at Colts: Because I like any radical rule change that sounds good on paper but would be horrible in reality, here’s one more idea to save the NFL product: a 32-week season. Instead of playing every week, teams play every OTHER week, with the AFC and NFC trading off weeks on the calendar starting in April. That’s eight games a week: three on Sunday morning, three in the afternoon, one at night, and then the Monday night game (No more Thursday games), and then a week-to-week playoff sprint at the end. You could even split fantasy leagues into NFC and AFC leagues. I hate bye weeks as much as the next fan, but that would probably be enough rest between games to keep more good players active. Something like this is utterly unworkable, but the NFL needs to start considering drastic shit if they want to keep up long-term.

Cardinals at Panthers

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Two Throwgasms

Vikings at Bears: I was at Halloween party last week and got very drunk, which was a poor choice on my part because this particular party had an ice luge, and the hosts had a bottle of smoked salmon vodka as a gag drink, like Jeppson’s Malort or any other similarly nasty shit. Yes, there is such a thing as smoked salmon vodka, and yes this story is about to get worse.


Anyway, since I was shitfaced, I thought to myself Hey, I like vodka. And I love smoked salmon. Why NOT combine the two? I did one shot. It was appalling. Then I did another for reasons that I cannot explain. When I went to bed that night, I had to moan to keep from puking. My wife was hitting me because I sounded like a mummy awakened after three thousand years. GNNNNGGGGGHHHH! GNNNNNNGHHHHH!

I woke up with a black cloud hangover and could barely function. And the worst part is that I had forgotten all about the salmon vodka until my wife mentioned it in the afternoon. She was like, “I can’t believe you had two shots of that smoked salmon vodka,” and then the taste came back to me, and I instantly wanted to die. I may never be able to eat smoked salmon again. I have never encountered a more psychologically damaging bottle of liquor. Stay the fuck away from smoked salmon vodka.

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One Throwgasm

Jaguars at Titans: Yep, these two teams are playing AGAIN on a Thursday Night. It’s the smoked salmon vodka of matchups. It’s like the NFL is actively trying to kill you. Who approved this? Shouldn’t there be someone at league HQ in charge of preventing this sort of thing? We need a separate NO MORE campaign to stop this from happening.


Jets at Browns: Kinda surprising that a Harvard grad like Ryan Fitzpatrick is too dumb to know that Ryan Fitzpatrick sucks.

Pregame Song That Makes Me Want To Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall


“Black Saucers” by Lonely the Brave, as submitted by Jeremy:

I can imagine some NFL meatmen getting fired up during warmups with this in their headphones headbanging and readying their brainpans up for the bruising to come.


Indeed. This is just buttrocky enough to make Richie Incognito’s playlist. By the way, that video above is a lyrics vid, which all bands now make because lyrics videos are cheap. The problem is that most lyrics are god awful, and so watching any lyrics video all the way through will make any song look ridiculous. All I wanted to do was rock out and then I saw your band write CRUSHED BY THE FATE OF YOUR FATEFUL HANDS in eight different fonts. I can’t rock knowing that was the best you could do.

Gregg Easterbrook Memorial Haughty Dipshit Of The Week

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We haven’t talked much about The Ringer here, because it’s hard say much of anything about an HBO promotional leaflet with 946 editors that offers semi-ironic 10,000-word breakdowns of Capital One ads. I don’t like acknowledging that I live in a world where such a thing can exist. Anyway, since The Ringer started up in June, Bill Simmons has written a grand total of two columns for it. Here is the second one…

A brief history of the NBA in eight fake quotes, five exclamation points and two question marks:

How about you just give me the history straight instead? “Here’s a history of the Civil War in two made-up anecdotes, one Pusha T lyric, a poop emoji, and a series of Westworld fan theories.”

Did you know that Ian Mahinmi will make almost $16 million this season … and he’s not even one of the league’s 49 highest-paid players? Hold on, I’ll put that in bold italics.


Why? I got it the first time you said it. I’m a grown man. I can process the impact of some NBA schlub making lots of bank.

Did you know that Ian Mahinmi will make almost $16 million this season … and he’s not even one of the league’s 49 highest-paid players?



YES I DID ******STAR WIPE*******

Golden State (became) -150 favorites for the 2017 title (meaning you’d have to wager $150 to win back $100)…. Your other option: wager on EVERYONE ELSE to win the title at +120. You read that correctly.


I know I did. You know what? Just write every sentence of this column twice to accommodate the apparently growing number of readers you have that require corrective lenses. “And now, an oral history of Couple’s Retreat in five fake quotes (x2), one cooking analogy (x2), and Michael Rapaport’s imdb profile (x2).”

Seven years ago, I spent an entire chapter in my NBA book explaining why Jordan was the best player ever.


The takes in that book, of course, are legally binding. In fact, NBA agents now make salary demands based solely upon arbitrary Hall of Fame pyramid shifts. “Sure, my client’s true shooting percentage dropped by 28 points last season. BUT LOOK AT WHAT THE BOOK SAYS. LOOK AT IT.”

I promised that I would never waver from that opinion.

And now?

I’m wavering.

OMG OMFG OMFFFFFG! There aren’t enough retroactive Deep Impact thinkpieces to adequately explain the HUGENESS of that waver. Again, Bill Simmons now resides in a strange headspace where the only historical frame of reference for anything is old Bill Simmons podcasts and listicles. Also, he’s still making up metrics and pretending they’re scientifically ironclad, like so:

Any “Who’s your greatest starting five?” argument has to include Jordan, LeBron, Bird…



…Magic and Pick-Any-HOF-Center. Jordan will always best him in hot-take categories like

“Ceiling of Peak Performance”

“Clutch Gene”

“Willingness to Embrace Male-pattern Baldness”

“Signature Moment”

“Force of Personality”

You know, as much as I complain, it’s nice to have hate-reading Simmons back in my life, if only for a brief moment. Hate-reading Simmons takes a grand total of 90 seconds. Hate-watching his show takes far longer, which is why I don’t do it. I’m a troll but I’m no masochist.

Last October, I did a panel at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit with John McEnroe…


I bet you did. “A brief history of content in three Teen Wolf scenes, two references to Christina Hendricks’ boobs, and a brief Jimmy Kimmel story. We can solve all content issues if we remember THE MO WILLIAMS DILEMMA.”

…my favorite tennis player ever and someone I had always been dying to meet. We spent an hour talking in the greenroom, another hour on stage, then two more hours in the car and on the airplane. It was the best podcast that I never recorded.


That sounds great. The best thing about any Bill Simmons column is when he reminds you how fantastic his life is. I repeat: The best thing about any Bill Simmons column is when he reminds you how fantastic his life is. Yes, you just read that.

By the way, McEnroe could come back and start playing pro tennis again TODAY and still not be as rusty as this column.


 Curt Schilling’s Facebook Lock Of The Week: Bills (+6)

Meme by Patrick Redford
Meme by Patrick Redford

Schilling 2016 record: 2-4-1

Fantasy Player Who Deserves To Die A Slow, Painful Death

DeAndre Hopkins, although this is less an indictment of him than Osweiler. Again, I have to watch Hopkins go to waste in FIVE primetime games this season. I’d rather watch a dog get euthanized. This is criminal.


Fire This Asshole!

Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2016 chopping block:

John Fox*

Jeff Fisher

Mike McCarthy

Mike McCoy

Todd Bowles

Hue Jackson

Dan Quinn

Gus Bradley

Mike Mularkey

Ron Rivera

Chip Kelly

Sean Payton

Bill O’Brien

Mike Tomlin

Chuck Pagano*

(*-potential midseason firing)

Someone tweeted last week that Gus Bradley has never beaten a team that ended the season with a winning record, and I don’t need to do any fancy research to know that it’s true. I can FEEL it. I can intuit such a fact using sheer instinct. I’m not sure he’s ever won a game of any kind, frankly. That seems right. The fact that benching Blake Bortles even has to be discussed means that this man’s entire tenure is null and void.


Great Moments In Poop History

Reader Justin sends in this story I call CHEECH AND CHONG’S STILL POOPIN’:

I went to a concert a few weeks ago with a buddy of mine. He was super paranoid about bringing joints into the concert, so he hid them in a ziplock and stashed them in his underwear. He was also uncomfortable about pulling the bag out in the crowd, so he went off to the bathroom to get everything all together. I decided to go with him and take a piss.


As I’m pissing, a security guard walks in the bathroom to do a standard check. Being drunk and stoned, I decided the best course of action is to loudly greet the security guard as a way to let my buddy in the stall know that there was a security guard in the bathroom and he should be careful. I then head out, thinking my buddy won’t be far behind.


As I’m waiting outside the bathroom, another security guard passes me and heads into the bathroom, so I begin to panic a bit. It had been a suspiciously long time for him to just pull the joints out. Then three more security guards head in. At this point, I am fully convinced that my buddy is going to jail and in a total panic. I figured it would be best to at least see him carried out by security so I can figure out where they’re going. A few more minutes pass. I begin to wonder if I might end up in jail too, by guilt of association.


Just as I start to plan how to navigate the prison system, my buddy strolls out, completely calm and happy. I start asking: “WHAT THE HELL TOOK YOU SO LONG? I THOUGHT YOU WERE BEING ARRESTED!” and he simply replies:

“Oh, sorry man, I had to take a shit too”

I could have killed him.

Yeah, that’s the occasional downside to weed. You think you’re in for a relaxing time, then you spend eight hours worrying that you left the front door unlocked.


Gametime Snack Of The Week

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Nic Nacs! From Germany! What better country to trust when it comes to putting things inside your body? Anyway, these are peanuts that are coated in, like, double peanut stuff. I ate a single bag in four seconds. I love every shellacked nut I’ve ever eaten. More foods should be shellacked in things.

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week

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Frick’s Hunters Select premium light beer! From Will!

I picked up a sixer of this at my local Grocery Outlet in Marina, CA for $2.99. Busted out the last one recently, and popped in a Calamondin (mandarin orange/kumquat hybrid fruit used in Asian cuisine, and pretty much the sourest thing ever devised by mankind) to offset the built up skunkiness. Make sure to do something like that, and enjoy the Mooninite camoflague design on the can. Even comes with a pre-designed target for target shooting!


I adore that can. I can’t believe more shitty beers don’t have camo labels. It’s the perfect match of drink and target audience (no pun intended). These people spend 8 hours a day shooting beer cans. Why NOT put a target on the can? It’s just common sense. I MUST BLOW IT AWAY.

Jim Tomsula’s Lifehack Of The Week!

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“There’s a lot of Halloween candy kids won’t eat. That’s why my friends down at the abandoned mill like to call the holiday “Good ‘N Plenty Christmas.” You can dig up a thousand uneaten Good ‘N Plentys at the town dump, no problem. And they don’t taste too bad once you get used to it. People now are too fussy. If you eat something enough, it eventually tastes pretty good: old Almond Joys, cat food, unidentifiable oil, hardened excrement. I love a good oil taco these days. Chattanooga Cathy makes them with onion dirt. Best taco you ever had.”

Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Browns Fans 

Full Out, a gymnastics movie my kid made me watch. It’s about a champion gymnast who gets hurt, but then gets better thanks to an UNDERGROUND HIP-HOP STREET DANCE TROOP that teaches her a thing or two about life AND doing cool flippy twist moves. Then she has to choose between her gymnast friends and her hip hop friends at the end. I give it three problematics out of five.


 Gratuitous Miller’s Crossing Quote

“They took his hair, Tommy. Jesus, that’s strange.”

Enjoy the games, everyone.