• Otter Views: Gridiron Grab Bag

    Football season’s advent prompts a quick review of recent developments in the gridiron world, developments both transitory and far-reaching.

    Among the transitory concerns are hiccups at the San Francisco 49ers’ flashy new Levi’s Stadium. The billion-dollar Santa Clara facility has already undergone a grass transplant with another one imminent. This turf tinkering will prove costly, but if posted ticket and refreshment prices are correct, money should be no obstacle.

    Perhaps more problematic is the new stadium’s unanticipated success as a solar collector. After several decades operating in cold, windy, foggy Candlestick Park, 49ers owners can perhaps be forgiven for not making “prevent heat stroke” a priority at the new stadium.

    Yet Levi’s recorded its first fatality when an overheated spectator collapsed during a recent pre-season game. Later in the season, this won’t be an issue. But in mid-August, the combination of direct sun and no breeze turned the new stadium into a huge aluminum frying pan. Sun-burnt ticket holders reportedly bolted for the exits long before the game ended.

    Now fully apprised of Levi’s braising potential, ticket holders can take counteractive measures until cooler weather arrives. These include donning protective headwear and manipulating a product stadium gift shops should sell: “49er Fans.”

    The subject of protective headwear brings up another recent gridiron issue that may prove far-reaching: player concussions. Long ignored (if not actively suppressed) by football nabobs at all levels, medical evidence linking repetitive head trauma to lasting brain damage has finally gained enough traction to force some grudging changes.

    Pro and college players concussed during practice or games are now sidelined for medical observation and need a doctor’s okay to return. It’s a modest change, given all the other injuries gridders willingly endure, but it’s a promising start. As concussions increasingly determine who can play and for how long, the game might undergo some productive changes – safer pads and helmets, saner blocking and tack- ling rules, maybe even taboos on knockout blows to the head.

    You can tell I’ve been concussed myself, because this is wishful thinking at best. If football were as relatively non-violent as say, rugby, millions of fans would not fill billion-dollar stadiums to get heat stroke watching it. On the other hand, what might be termed “player litigation creep” is starting to worry institutions that field football programs.

    Each season brings pro players and ex-players closer to winning class-action compensation suits for brain damage and other crippling injuries suffered while em- ployed by the National Football League. The NFL’s longstanding practice of medicating its athletes so they can “play hurt” is also coming under scrutiny as former players suffer debilitating medical and psychological consequences later in life.

    The college game, meanwhile, has been shaken up by legal challenges to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In two recent cases, judges ruled against the NCAA’s bedrock assertion that its players are “scholar-athletes” whose amateur status denies them salaries, post-career medical coverage, and any share in the profits they generate for their schools, conferences and the NCAA itself.

    Its mind-boggling annual income at stake, the NCAA will likely appeal both cases and fight any others brought by players or ex-players. But the first cracks have now appeared in the “student-athlete” shibboleth, as the nation’s five “power conferences” mull financial deals with players in high-profile sports.

    While the big changes roil professional and college programs, there’s bound to be some eventual trickle-down to the “Friday Night Lights” level. High schools, middle schools and “Pop Warner” leagues will want to enhance player safety and reduce overly aggressive coaching, lest they find themselves in “concussion court” as well.

    Finally, on a lighter note, The NFL’s Washington Redskins need another name. Their current moniker offends an entire segment of the U.S. population; the original segment, in fact. And while the Redskins would clearly suffer enormous consequenc- es from any rebranding, it’s not like this hasn’t happened before.

    When owners transfer their teams from one market to another, name changes often accompany the moves. The Baltimore Ravens used to be the Colts, who are now in Indianapolis. The Tennessee Titans first suited up as the Houston Oilers, and Houston now has the Texans. In basketball, the L.A. Lakers started out in Minnesota, where there are actual lakes.

    Instead of fighting it, the Redskins might view the name change controversy as a renewal opportunity. For inspiration, they need only look across town at D.C.’s former Senators, long the most moribund outfit in major league baseball. Now rebranded as the Washington Nationals, the team is whipping all comers.

    The Redskins could even retain their traditional iconography and merchandise logos. All they’d need is a less demeaning Native American name. The Florida State Seminoles, a perennial college football power, are again ranked number one nationally. Any ideas for Washington?

    posted to Cedar Street Times on August 29, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views

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