The One Thing The NFL Will Never Do To Make Football Safer

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Image for article titled The One Thing The NFL Will Never Do To Make Football Safer

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

The Super Bowl is over, which means that’s it time for (GUHHHHHHHHH) the NFL offseason, which means we’re in for another seven months of people debating the very existence of football, without any real football on TV to help distract me from the argument. I may have to take up reading instead, which is a terrifying prospect.


Football is, undeniably, a brutal collision sport that takes a heavy toll on the body and mind. And the NFL has spent the better part of this decade enacting new ad campaigns and rule changes and safety programs and equipment innovations all in the name of convincing you that A) The game can be safe, if played “correctly,” and B) They’re already making football safer for you and your little ones.

These are lies, of course. You can fine and eject big hitters. You can make pee wee players watch a million boring instructional videos. You can make the helmet lining out of cotton candy. None of it will change the fundamental dangers of the sport.


EXCEPT… The pads and helmets.

Pads and helmets make football dangerous. I am far from the first person to suggest this, and I won’t be the last. There are colleges that practice without helmets now. There’s a 7-on-7 league in Jersey that uses no pads or helmets at all. Even Mike Ditka, who is an old insane man, thinks the NFL should do away with face masks at the very least. This all sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. If you take away helmets and pads, you will force players to instinctively protect parts of their body that they otherwise don’t bother to protect.

Despite all the tape study and micromanaged game plans, football is an instinct sport. The best players are the ones who can make snap decisions without thinking, and the goal of practice is to IMBUE players with those sound instincts. That’s how the NFL cooked up the idea of Heads Up football. It posits that you can train young players to instinctively get their brains out of the way when a big hit is coming.

But a helmet makes it far too easy to forget, or even disregard, that training. If you’ve ever put on shoulder pads and a helmet, you know this. You feel like a fucking GOD. You feel invincible. You feel like running into a goddamn wall. And why not? You’re protected by a shell of hard plastic. Any high school football pregame features a bunch of raging-hormone teenage boys who desperately want to hit the fuck out of everybody, even their own teammates. And the reason they feel so free to do that is because of the padding. It’s irresistible. You can practice and practice and practice all you like. Only a blessed few will have properly trained their brains to avoid dangerous contact. And frankly, some guys will happily ignore the protocols anyway. Look at what fucking Aqib Talib did in the Super Bowl:


He knew that was dangerous and he did it anyway. Take away the pads and helmet it’s a different story. There’s no face mask to grab and twist. It’s harder to rip a man’s head clean off when it’s just a head.

If you take off the helmet, your brain won’t ALLOW you to go to bashing into another person. The instinct to protect yourself is already there, switched on, with no training necessary. Would it rid the sport of concussions entirely? No. Of course not. Aussie Rules football is played without pads, and that sport also has its issues with head injuries. But it doesn’t have nearly as many problems as the NFL currently has, with former players committing suicide or walking around in a gray fog for the final three decades of their existence.


But the NFL will never do this and, in fact, has never experimented with the idea. Given the sport’s problems, you would think the NFL would build some kind of national safety lab and then hire 50 former players to test out new rules and then bring those rules to market once they’ve been proven effective. But no. No, what the NFL is doing is selling a bunch of rose-colored bullshit without fundamentally changing the nature of the sport. They’ll never get rid of pads and they’ll never get rid of helmets, and the reason is branding.

Think about the football without pads. Is it football? I bet a lot of fans would say no. The NFL has built its image on helmets and pads. The helmet IS your team. The helmet is what you see in the Tecmo Bowl intro. For ages, one helmet smashed into another in the MNF opening credits. Every team at the draft has a helmet sitting on its table. So the NFL will tweak and fiddle with helmets, but they’ll never ditch them because they’re invested in helmets.


They don’t want to turn away fans who see a helmet-less and pad-less NFL and decide it’s not the NFL anymore: not as dangerous, TOO PUSSIFIED, no longer worth watching. The players are no longer invincible. They’re no longer larger than life. They’re no longer gladiators. The satisfying THUD of the pads crashing into one another is gone. I’m not even sure that, as a fan, I would accept padless football. I would have a hard time watching it because, after decades of watching padded football, watching the game without all that equipment would look like practice to me. And the NFL, for all its chatter about making the game safe, can’t afford to lose fans like me because it would cost them money. Money money money. The driving force is ALWAYS money.

And it’s a shame because, in the long-term, maybe a padless NFL could succeed. As it stands now, every player on the field has his face partially obscured by a mask. I wouldn’t mind seeing Odell Beckham’s hair flapping in the wind as he scores a touchdown, or watch J.J. Watt bark at the moon after bringing a QB to the ground. Even though it’s now a penalty, a lot of players used to celebrate great plays by whipping their helmets off. Why? So you could SEE them. Seeing them is fun. Seeing them makes you care.


If the NFL acts NOW, maybe they’ll stem the tide of players retiring early, and parents pulling their kids from youth leagues, and former players filing big-ass lawsuits. All of that will continue if football goes on as presently constituted. As it stands now, the league makes little chickenshit changes from year to year that ultimately amount to very little, and end up making the finished product sloppy and poorly officiated. And the only goal of those changes is to hang on to the insane TV and stadium revenues that are still pouring in. They’re short-term solutions. In fact, improving helmets and shoulder pads will probably only serve to increase the number of small-impact collisions that often add up to massive brain damage. The better the pads, the harder you feel you can hit someone. And plenty of people already think the game has been diluted thanks to these incremental measures. So why not take the risk and make one truly drastic change to the sport that could have a real and substantive positive impact in the long term?

But the NFL won’t do it. They won’t even try. And the bubble is coming. One day, everyone will cut the cord and stop paying PSLs and the money won’t be quite as abundant as it once was (OMG FLAT REVENUES NOOOO), all because the men in charge of football weren’t brave enough to destroy it.


Now, with that said, it’s time to close up the Jamboroo for the year…

The Games

None. It’s over. It’s all over. Normally I would be sad, except that the NFL offseason has steadily grown more insane with each passing year, so who knows what’s in store for us over the next seven months. Maybe Russell Wilson will Google instructions for how to kill a man. Maybe scientists will discover that football causes instant nut cancer. Maybe the GOP will draft Roger Goodell for the South Cackalacky primary. YOU NEVER KNOW! Something weird will happen, and then Adam Schefter will tweet, “Wow! The NFL never sleeps, folks!” and it’ll be really annoying. We are so blessed.


Now, onto the random crap:

Stop calling Peyton Manning “The Sheriff.” That limp nickname has been around for a while and never quite stuck, but now people are actively trying to make it happen. Stop that. The man’s career is over. If you wanted him to be the Sheriff, you should have pushed for it 20 years ago. Besides, sheriffs are ASSHOLES. The only thing that nickname does is reinforce the idea that Manning is an officious dickhead.


By the way, it’s remarkable that Denver put together a historically great defense despite the fact that they paid Manning a small fortune in salary. Imagine how much better that defense could be with another $19 million to play with. Holy shit! There were a lot of good defensive teams this season (the Broncos, Jets, Seahawks, Texans, and Vikings all come to mind), so maybe all those teams are best served ignoring offense, spending everything on defense, and then praying they win every game by a score of 9-6. What a treat that would be!


I don’t think that was a great Super Bowl by any means, but sometimes it’s cool to see a defense beat the living shit out of another team for 60 minutes. It was like watching Oklahoma beat FSU 13-2 in the Orange Bowl back in 2001 with Josh Heupel at QB. Just one of those wire-to-wire displays of defensive mastery, only the Oklahoma game was more satisfying because fuck Florida State.

Since the Denver defense was so good, no one made much of a lasting stink about that Jerricho Cotchery incompletion that sure as hell looked like a circus catch. Once replay denied the catch, the Panthers momentum was killed, and they gave up a strip-sack TD two plays later. That sequence pretty much ruined the game. I would like to advance the theory that the NFL upheld the replay on purpose so that Manning could get one last Super Bowl. THE FIX WAS IN, FOLKS. I would like a dozen YouTube videos that explore the conspiracy in greater detail.


I bought shredded cheese for my Super Bowl chili, only I got reduced fat cheese by accident. Reduced fat cheese is fucking puke. When it melts, it develops a skin, like old soup. It’s the worst thing ever. I demand that all cheesemakers CLEARLY label their reduced fat cheeses so that I can avoid them. Why do they even have this anymore? The low-fat craze is over. Fat is in. They should make double-fat cheese instead.

Super Bowl pick: 0-1

Overall: 4-7

Song For The Offseason

“Roll With Me,” by Bloodlights. Here’s reader Tyler:

I think you’ve previously posted a song from Gluecifer, featuring none other than Captain Poon. Here’s the band he formed after their breakup.


Hey man, you dub yourself Captain Poon, and you’ve got my click.

Gregg Easterbrook Memorial Haughty Dipshit Of The Week

Image for article titled The One Thing The NFL Will Never Do To Make Football Safer

Were there Cam takes this week? OH! Oh, were there ever! Even I got in on the hogpile.


But my scorching Newton hatchet job was NOTHING compared to New York Post cloud-yeller Phil Mushnick, who was livid at Cam even before the Super Bowl started.

Cam Newton’s lack of respect for national anthem par for course at Super Bowl

That’s headline. I’ve got an enormous take boner already.

Guess it was too much for Cam Newton to remove that black cap thingee he was wearing during the national anthem.


Yeah Cam, what’s with that THINGEE? Don’t you know it’s disrespectful to wear THINGEES during the anthem? And for it to be BLACK—a gang color, to be certain—only makes the offense more galling. By the way, I’m convinced that the only reason we have the anthem before games is so that we can catch people disrespecting the anthem. It’s entrapment.

But he’s just another who demands respect with little in return.

Did I miss the part where Cam cries out for respect? Did that happen in the little-seen Poetic Justice 2: Stanza Your Ground?

Surprised he didn’t exploit the anthem to display his Gatorade money towel.


By the way, Mushnick’s column devolves from here into a laundry list of random grievances. It’s Larry King’s old column if Larry King had clinical depression.

On the flipside, Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas demonstrated class, not returning to the sideline after the coin flip until he’d shaken hands with the Bay Area Super Bowl MVPs who were called to witness the flip. The rest of the Panthers and Broncos bolted.


Didn’t they have a Super Bowl to play? Call me nuts but I feel like their minds might have been elsewhere.

Guess it didn’t matter that Odell Beckham’s excessive me-first onfield conduct cost the Giants a playoff spot this season. He’s still worthy of starring in a Buick commercial.


But isn’t a Buick commercial its OWN form of punishment? If Odell had been a model citizen, he might have gotten bumped up to an Acura spot. I hope Buick didn’t let him wear a thingee on set.

CBS just can’t help itself. Panther Jonathan Stewart’s 1-yard TD plunge was followed by his lengthy hand-jive showboat bit…



…the latter rewarded with a full, slow-motion replay. Even rank immodesty after a 1-yard run gives TV an opportunity to do dirt to sports…


Pah! I’m so sick of networks doing dirt to sports! Oh, woe to us who would do all that dirt unto our fair games! I even saw Stewart’s ANKLES on that play. Can we leave nothing to the imagination anymore? Lady Liberty WEEPS at all this wanton hand puppetry.

But Mushnick wasn’t even the worst of the bunch this week. No, no. Twitter user @eirsalazar unearthed this hilariously overwrought take from the website of Boston jockhole WEEI


YESSSSSSSSS Rob Bradford bringing the fucking heat! I like it when a columnist drops all nuance and human insight and goes right for the jugular. Rob’s my kind of fucker.

In whose world is this OK?

Not mine! Mine is a world of fresh flowers and noble wars. NOT FOOTBALL DANCIN’.

And don’t answer Cam Newton, because he is clearly living on a different planet. And that’s a place I have no desire to visit.


Planet Dabtron!

This guy has boiled my blood in the last 40 hours more than any athlete I can remember.


Keep in mind this is a Boston fan who has lived through Aaron Hernandez. But DOOHHHHHH that Newton boy! Doing all that… stuff! Who the fuck does he think he is?!

“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser,” Newton said. “If I offended anyone, that’s cool … I don’t have to conform to anybody’s wants for me. I’m not that guy. This is a great league with or without me. I am my own person.”


Folks, this is what we in the biz call a setup. Now watch as Pats bro delivers the crushing blow:

How about I just show you a loser.


It will be in the next selfie you take somewhere in the midst of that next million dollar commercial.



Newton does a lot of good things for the community. I’m sure he can be a good teammate in some respects.


Oh, so none of this matters. Got it.

Good for him.

But FUCK him!

Right now, at this moment, NFL’s Superman stands for everything that is wrong with this world of big-money sports we live in.


GAHHHHH money! And it’s so big! I hate all this money with its bigness. Money is doing dirt to sports and covering it with money dirt.

And it turned out, the real world was Newton’s Kryptonite.

GO BACK TO FACKIN’ DABTRON, LOSAH! If anyone knows anything about dealing with adversity, it’s a Boston fan.


(Red Sox lose two games in a row)


Image for article titled The One Thing The NFL Will Never Do To Make Football Safer

Emmitt Smith’s Lock Of The Week!

I think we’ve reached the end of the road with these Emmitt Smith jokes. I’m gonna have to figure out a NEW gambling expert for next season. Maybe we can bring Nazi Bill Simmons back:

Image for article titled The One Thing The NFL Will Never Do To Make Football Safer

Oh, how I love that photo. Jim Cooke, you are a living master.

2015 Emmitt Smith record: 11-11

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:

Mike Mularkey

Marvin Lewis

Jim Caldwell

Rex Ryan

Sean Payton

Mike McCarthy

Jason Garrett

Jay Gruden

Gus Bradley

Mike McCoy

Chuck Pagano

Bill O’Brien

The fact that Chuck Pagano and Jim Caldwell barely avoided the axe this season only guarantees a bigger firing pool come NEXT season. I’m giddy. Look at how many fireable coaches there are up there. 2016 is gonna be a bloodbath. I can’t wait.


Great Moments In Poop History

Reader Mike sends in a story I call ONE POOPY SUMMER:

When I was in college, I spent a summer working with a landscaper. This was in Eastern North Carolina in late July, where it’s so hot your balls become a swamp with their own natural habitat. On this particular day, there was a record setting heat wave where the heat index was pushing 115 degrees and up with 100% humidity. Not an ideal time to be working outdoors.

We were working on a lawn, doing the regular maintenance - mowing, trimming, weed treatments, etc. I’m working with an edger when all of a sudden I feel a tickle on my leg. Being so hot and being Eastern NC, I figured it was just a golf ball sized mosquito. I look down and to my horror there is a steady drip of brown liquid. Then there is a flow of brown liquid. Then my worst fears came to fruition - I shit my pants.

My boss always kept a roll of toilet paper in the glove box of the truck and a box of tissues in the cab, so I pinch my cheeks and waddle myself over there. Check the glove box - no toilet paper. No box of tissues anywhere to be found. I am left with only one item that would be even close to adequate for wiping. It was paper. Legal pad paper. I grab some sheets and scurry to the woods where I drop my pants and start the cleanup process. It got some of it, but it’s not as porous as toilet paper so there was some liquid that just wasn’t going to get cleaned off my skin.

I tell my boss what happens, and once he regains his composure, he cuts me for the day and takes me to my car. On the ride home the acrid contents of the poop begin to eat away at my skin, creating a horrible burning rash all over. For days I had what amounted to adult diaper rash. No amount of cream alleviated the pain.

I told my friend about this, and whenever it’s a scorching hot day, it’s now known as “Poop Your Pants Hot” or “Pants Poopin’ Weather”.


Suddenly I’m okay with February being a day longer this year.

Snack Of The Offseason

Image for article titled The One Thing The NFL Will Never Do To Make Football Safer

Crème brûlée almonds! From Starbucks! I hate everything about Starbucks except these stupid almonds. I want to be buried in them. Such an elegant grave.

By the way, I don’t know how you people who make Starbucks runs on a daily basis make Starbucks runs on a daily basis. Cost aside, you gotta wedge four piping hot cups of coffee into a cardboard tray and then walk that tray back to your home or office like you’re Remo fucking Williams. I’m shocked that a hundred people aren’t horribly injured on a daily basis from making Starbucks runs. If other people want Starbucks, they should get up and get it themselves.


Cheap Beer Of The Offseason

Image for article titled The One Thing The NFL Will Never Do To Make Football Safer

Capital Brewery Wisconsin Amber! BEER FOR BADGERS! From Nate:

Recently moved in with my girlfriend (future wife, probably) so I don’t get to see my dad as often as I should. Today, he offered me Looks more like TAB or Cherry Diet Rite. It’s pretty bad.


It really does. It looks like someone left that beer can in a river back in 1973 and Nate only found it a week ago. Caramel malts, my ass. I know a terrible cabin drinking beer when I see it. I MUST SWILL IT.

Jim Tomsula’s Lifehack Of The Offseason!

Image for article titled The One Thing The NFL Will Never Do To Make Football Safer

“I got a lot of downtime coming up but you can’t use downtime as an excuse for being lazy, okay. This is the time to forage for soup cans, fortify your tent with used baling wire, and dig a second toilet. There’s always something to do. If you just sit there, satisfied with your newspaper shoes, you’re gonna be a real tough spot when those shoes get caught on a muffler shard. Always be preparing. That’s why I keep canned beans AND dry.”

Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Offseason For Browns Fans

Back to the Future, which remains a perfect movie in every conceivable way. My kid had a slumber party last week end and they were all debating what movie to watch, and I was like FUCK IT. YOU GIRLS ARE GONNA WATCH A REAL MOVIE. And I put this on and they were riveted. I forgot that they say the word “shit” a lot in Back to the Future. One of the kids was like WHOA. I apologized for the obscenity. I bet she told her mom about it. Kids are little reporters like that.


Also, I forgot that Biff sexually harasses Marty’s mom (assaults her, really) not once, but twice! And one of the girls at the party was like, “Is he trying to kiss her?” And I was like, “Uhhhh, yeah! Just trying to sneak in some kisses!” I feel awful now. But it was Back to the fucking Future, you know? I feel like the classics deserve a free pass.

Gratuitous Simpsons Quote

“Maybe it’s the Champale talking, but I think you’re pretty sexy.”

Enjoy the offseason, everyone. See you back here for the Draft.