Because there’s a growing body of evidence that football is an inherently dangerous sportthat can result in long-term brain damage, the NFL players’ union successfully negotiated new rules in 2011that reduced the amount of physical contact players have in the offseason.
The league reduced the offseason program by five weeks, limited full-contact practices, cut the number of OTAs, and gave players more days off.
Basic long-term player health measures, in other words.
Now, those rules are being blamed for a string of lower-body injuries suffered by high-profile players since 2013 training camp opened a few weeks ago.
This line of thinking is completely misguided, but right now it seems to be the popular consensus.
“The new collective bargaining agreement creates too much time for the players to rest their bodies. As one front office exec told me, long rest helps joints, but long rest isn’t great for tendons,” ESPN’s John Clayton writes.
He added, “If the players aren’t doing enough running or training to keep the tendons constantly working, they are vulnerable to the ACL tears, Achilles pulls and other injuries that have hit teams.”
Forbes’ Leigh Steinberg wrote the same thing, saying injuries are inevitable when players stop hitting each other for an extended period of time.
Even if you accept the so-far unsubstantiated argument that rest increases the chances of a tendon injury, there are some logic issues here.
This argument — that players have too much time off — assumes that relatively short-term injuries are just as bad as the long-term injuries that the new offseason rules were designed to prevent.
The new rules were designed to limit the long-term health effects of football. It doesn’t matter if some players are adversely effected in the short-term, the real problem is what’s happening to NFL players years after they retire.
The leg injuries we’ve seen in training camp this year hurt the product on the field. The players will be fully healthy again in a year, and the biggest effect will be to the 2013 product.
The long-term brain injuries that these new rules are designed to prevent are in a completely different category. While they don’t affect the 2013 product, these injuries destroy lives and stay with players long after they’ve finished playing.
More broadly, football is facing a crisis when it comes to the effect of brain injuries, and it needs to fundamentally change in order to survive.
Blaming the rash of training camp ACL tears on these new offseason rules ignores the larger issue and obstructs the league’s ability to make the sport safer.
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