Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tackling (no) dummies

You can already hear the anti-wussification brigade, tuning up in some distant peanut gallery. Tackle football without the tackling? Why, they really are trying to turn Our American Game into ballroom dancing!

On the other hand ...

On the other hand, maybe they're just trying to inject a little thought process into it.

And so out in New Jersey on Saturday, there will be a scrimmage involving three small high schools. It will be a contact scrimmage. Pads will be worn. The only thing there won't be is tackling.

The excellent reason for this, explains the coach of one participant, Blair Academy, is that 80 percent of injuries happen when tackling or being tackled, and no one wants to lose any players to injury in what amounts to a glorified practice. For one thing, with only about 35 varsity players, losing players in practice is not a luxury Blair (or the other schools, Kittatinny and Belvedere) can afford.  So losing players when you can possibly avoid it is not upholding the manly traditions of football. It's just stupid.

"It's not being soft," Blair coach Jim Saylor told USA  Today. "It's being safe."

And, of course, smart. Some of the same people who might sneer at the no-tackle policy, after all, also malign the much-maligned NFL preseason. And the reason?

Because too many guys get hurt in these meaningless exhibitions and aren't ready to go when the real football begins.

Same deal here. Come Friday nights this fall, there will be plenty of tackling at Blair and elsewhere. There will also be tackling in Ivy League games on Saturdays. But in both places, there'll be no tackling in practice. It's part of a growing trend in response to the growing body of research that indicates repeated shots to the head carry lasting, life-shortening consequences.

That trend includes concussion sensors in helmets and the teaching of rugby-style tackling techniques, something Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has been doing since his days at USC.

"If it's good enough for the NFL and USC and Dartmouth, it's something that can be done anywhere," Saylor says.

And should be, for the good of the game. Because how is it good for the game, after all, if those who play it wind up as shuffling "Walking Dead" extras, complete with the stir-fried melons? How can you even call it a game anymore, if that's the case?

And -- most vitally, for the game's continued existence -- what parent would want their kid to play it?

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