Some of the people who watch baseball games, probably a small number, relish collisions in which the stationary catcher blocks the plate and tries to hold the ball as the accelerating runner attempts to dislodge it from his glove by crashing into him.
A number of the people who watch hockey games, I have no idea what percentage, feel cheated if the game is not interrupted by brawls. They may find a brawl in which one player hammers another player’s head into the ice especially satisfying.Enough people watch football games so that it has become this country’s national sport. Lots of them like the hits, though recently it has become apparent to people, even the commissioner of the National Football League, that a fellow enduring enough of those hits is a candidate for depression, dementia, even suicide.
Major League Baseball recently instituted a rule designed to prevent those collisions in which a runner barrels into a stationary catcher. Though some fans and sportswriters have squawked at that, lots of current and former players have endorsed the change.
Perhaps inspired in part by the early deaths of three so-called “enforcers” in 2011, the National Hockey League has passed some rules designed to protect its players, though some nights mayhem still prevails and a player leaves the ice on a stretcher.
Football marches on. The number of youngsters playing in organized leagues has dropped over the past couple of years, but despite rule changes meant to limit helmet-to-helmet hits, NFL players continue to suffer concussions. Some of them have avoided the protocols designed to protect them from reinjuring their brains. The new rules have been blamed for low hits that have knocked running backs and ends out of games and seasons with knee injuries.
Meanwhile there has been no rule to address the sub-concussive hits regularly suffered by linemen, though some of those studying chronic traumatic encephalopathy as it has become apparent in former players have suggested that those repetitive collisions can be as damaging to the brain as a relatively small number of big hits.
Pro sports are big business. There is and there will be pressure to resist change that might make them less profitable. In the new year and years after it, may that pressure continue to find a significant counterweight generated by concern for the short and long-term safety of the athletes providing the entertainment.