If and when Jonathan Vilma meets with Roger Goodell, the Saints linebacker should ask the commissioner a simple question:
What is more dangerous — a symbolic, thousand-dollar bounty system or the Baltimore Ravens opening the season playing four NFL games in 17 days?
The elimination of bounties will not stop one NFL defensive player from curb-stomping an opposing player if given the opportunity. Goodell’s New Orleans witch hunt won’t make the game safer. Would the elimination of Thursday night football enhance safety? I suspect one day a smart lawyer will argue that it would.
But that day isn’t here just yet, so Thursday night the Bears and the Packers kicked off the NFL’s season-long money grab. Year 7 of Thursday night football will stretch across the entire NFL season rather than just the second half.
The Ravens opened the 2012 season on “Monday Night Football” and will play their fourth game on Thursday, Sept. 27, completing as grueling a stretch of tackle football as we’ve ever seen.
“The four games in 17 days is strictly for the money,” Baltimore safety Bernard Pollard told me Thursday night. “We as players understand that so we do everything possible to take care of our bodies. It’s on the coaches to understand what we go through and to give us a break, because that’s a lot of pounding in a short amount of time.”
It’s difficult for the uninitiated to understand the physical toll a 60-minute football game takes on the body. I was a mediocre mid-major college football player. The physicality difference between high-school football and mid-major college football is enormous. After a college football game, you spent the next 24 to 36 hours feeling like you’d been in a bad car accident.
Inflammation overwhelms your body. I can only speculate about the gap between college football and the NFL, but I tend to believe the postgame pain and inflammation difference is just as pronounced as the leap from high school to college. I know that college and professional football players rely on anti-inflammatory drugs to get through the week. Four days is not enough recovery time.
“Your body is sleepwalking until the second and maybe the third quarter,” a recently retired NFL player told me Thursday. “Short week after a Monday night on the road is a nightmare. Watch Oakland this week. Travel to Miami after playing on ‘MNF,’ the Raiders gonna get killed.”
Some player is going to get severely hurt on a Thursday night.
Those of us in the media don’t like to talk about the stupidity and the exploitive nature of the NFL. The league butters all of our bread. We’re addicted to its popularity, relevancy and traction. Sports fans don’t care much either. We just want a good game to bet on.
There’s also a segment of the sports-fan population that doesn’t recognize the humanity of the combatants. Or we’re jealous. We think it’s fine for the oversized animals to brutalize each other for our entertainment. We think it’s a fair exchange for the money, fame and the adoration of young women.
And there’s another group of highly cynical fans who blame the players and their union for being dumb and cowardly enough to allow Goodell to pimp them out on Thursday nights. If the NFLPA isn’t wise enough and strong enough to object to Goodell making Ray Lewis and Ed Reed walk the track four nights in 17 days, why should Joe Sports Fan care?
It’s going to take death, a serious injury or a lawsuit to stop the NFL’s desire to televise live games seven days a week, six months a year. If a team can play four games in 17 days, why can’t teams play an 18-game regular season?
But Gregg Williams is evil because he instructed his defensive players to attack the head. Really? What’s more dangerous, deeds or tough talk, a brutal schedule or a bounty system that rewards you for what you were going to do anyway?
The vilification of the Saints and Goodell’s hypocrisy infuriate me. Thursday night football endangers the health of far more NFL players than some flimsy bounty system Vilma participated in.
Goodell earns more money than Vilma. Goodell could serve as commissioner for another 10 to 15 years. Vilma is staring at the end of his career. But Vilma is the guy who is fighting to avoid having a year’s salary stripped from him so Goodell can continue the charade that he cares about the health and safety of NFL players.
I wish Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, etc., had the guts to stand up for Vilma and demand that Goodell end his witch hunt. If the offensive stars supported Vilma, it would do more to create solidarity among all NFL players, end bounties and promote safety than all of Goodell’s helmet-to-helmet flags and whatnot.
The players need to protect themselves. Goodell and the owners aren’t going to do it.