Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant had no business getting hurt while returning a punt during Sunday night’s 27-24 loss to the New York Jets.
Jones has made his unhappiness clear about head coach Jason Garrett exposing Bryant to injury on special teams. The explosive Bryant was forced to miss offensive snaps for medical treatment before returning to the field.
However, the focus of Jones’ anger is misguided. Don’t blame Garrett. Bryant was the one who chose not to wear the thigh pads that almost certainly could have prevented his bruised quadriceps.
To go another step further, Jones and his fellow team owners set themselves up for this type of scenario. They didn’t insist upon the mandatory game-day use of protective equipment – including concussion-preventing mouthpieces – in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
As reported by FOXSports.com in June 2010, the league had every intention of demanding such guidelines during labor negotiations. NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith also told FOXSports.com he would be open to anything that would improve player safety and better protect the health of his constituents.
The inmates then grabbed control of the asylum.
Ray Anderson, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, said the league received “very strenuous pushback” from the NFLPA about mandatory padding. That led to the NFL dropping the issue – and the ball – for at least the 2011 season. The same goes for mandatory equipment rules in practices, although players can be fined if hurt while not wearing padding that could have prevented the injury.
“I think it’s just an obvious fact that if players have more padding they’ll be safer,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told me last week. “We do hope the players association will embrace that position. We’ll continue to work with them and push that.”
Goodell’s cries are falling on deaf ears. Too many veterans are insistent upon going au natural (besides a protective cup) under their football uniform.
The reasons range from comfort to the belief that less padding equals greater speed. In their minds, the chance of suffering a bruise that will ultimately heal on its own without surgery or lifelong effects is a fair tradeoff.
“Guys want to feel as sleek as possible,” said Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who is a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee. “Anything that inhibits that makes them feel it’s slowing them down or getting in their way. Some guys have never played with those pads. It’s difficult for them to wrap their heads around it mentally.”
That’s why these players need a rap upside the head to instill some common sense.
If everyone is forced to wear padding, any speed reduction will be mitigated. Besides, the idea that such light equipment – we’re literally talking ounces of weight here – can cause that effect may be a myth anyway. As for the comfort issue, the league has worked with a manufacturing partner to create a girdle that makes thigh and hip padding snugger and less intrusive.
But here’s the most mind-blowing aspect of the safety issue: Some players, especially quarterbacks concerned about barking intelligible pre-snap signals, don’t wear mouthpieces even knowing they are strongly believed to decrease concussion risk.
“Some folks have played entire careers without mouthpieces,” Anderson said. “You would think that would be unwise for dental purposes as well as concussions but it apparently is something a lot of players choose not to do.”
These players either don’t know or don’t care that they are exposing themselves to the types of blows that could lead to mental-health problems later in life. Just ask some of the addled NFL retirees who now wish they would have taken better safety precautions during their playing days.
The league doesn’t want another generation of affected players for both conscientious and financial reasons (brain-damaged NFL players are bad for business and the league’s image). This is why Goodell has championed major rules changes hoping to reduce incidents of head trauma.
Goodell also knows the NFL sets the standard for every level of organized football from colleges to Pop Warner. If the pros are doing it, impressionable youngsters tend to follow suit.
That same group of idols is now undercutting the NFL’s safety efforts.
Foxworth said he wears a mouthpiece when he plays and doesn’t “know anybody who doesn’t.” But just like Bryant, Foxworth didn’t wear protective leg padding during his game Sunday against Pittsburgh.
“Not too many receivers are coming up with thigh contusions,” Foxworth said hours before the Cowboys-Jets game. “I think if that happened they would rethink it.”
Bryant – as well as the NFLPA – should do just that.
FOX Sports Southwest Digital content manager Ben Rebstock contributed to this report. Alex Marvez interviewed Roger Goodell and Ray Anderson on Sirius XM NFL Radio.