For safety’s sake

Published 10:33 am Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Purists don’t like it. I’m not even sure yet whether or not I like it. I don’t have kids or grandkids that play the game, so maybe I’m allowed some leeway. Still, this will produce some strong opinions no matter where you stand on the issue.

I’m talking about the decision by the Ivy League’s eight football coaches a few weeks ago to no longer allow tackling in regular-season practices.

Okay, so it’s the Ivy League – you know, Yale, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth and Hahr-vahrd. Maybe it’s just a really smart move by some really smart fellas. Maybe it’s just ‘Yankee propaganda’, after all these are the schools that don’t offer athletic scholarships.

Of course, this decision will have to be reviewed and dissected by the administrations of these schools, but if it passes this really strict litmus test: it means take-‘em-to-the-ground tackling is taking a backseat to proper positioning, total technique and flawless form.

“At this stage in their careers, these guys know how to hit and take a hit,” Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens told the New York Times; Dartmouth reduced full-contact practice seven years ago.

Why just on Monday through Thursday? Well, if you check the math: the number of practices outnumbers the dozen or so games a school has on its schedule every year.

No, this isn’t your grandfather’s or even your father’s college football anymore. Indeed, the game we know today won’t be the same football that’s going to be played anywhere from five to 20 years from now.

Look around at the pros, a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer like Calvin “Megatron” Johnson just retired from the Detroit Lions in what could arguably be considered his prime, give or take a season or two. Jordan Gross of my beloved Carolina Panthers hung up his cleats, no argument, in his prime and missed out on a Super Bowl season. Also, last year, San Francisco 49ers’ Chris Borland walked away from the game after what was just his rookie season. Would you care to compute how much money he left on the table?

Some say developments in equipment and training have created a sport that’s a far cry from what we saw and played decades ago. Three-hundred-pound players now are covered with ultra-light space-age technology allowing them to run faster, last longer and maintain a fuller range of motion while creating impacts that are like planets colliding. Do you wish you’d have had it this good Johnny Unitas, Dick Butkus or Jim Brown?

But among the things that don’t change in the game, sadly, is that the ultimate result of the hits delivered today won’t be known for years. It’s taken this long to figure out the damage done on weekends that often doesn’t manifest itself for an entire generation and, as the movie “Concussion” told us, frequently it happens too late for anything substantive to be done.

The Ivy League seems to be saying that fewer hits may mean fewer head issues later in life.

Yet, your coaches who believe biting the head off a frog at practice as a way of inspiring his young charges is probably going to care less.

They feel the only way to get used to contact is to endure contact and after a few hits that ‘rattle your cage’, or ‘ring your bell’, they will identify quitters from the hitters: Hitters will hit, quitters will quit and the rest will be somewhere in between.

Tackling in live drills can be effective, though not as efficient as hitting a dummy with the focus on proper technique of exploding out of that three-point stance. Maybe enough repetition will reduce in-game miss-hits with the head while limiting the number of those teeth-rattling collisions in practice.

You see, there’s nothing sissy about being safe.

GENE MOTLEY is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7211.