Bernstein: NFL Knows Distraction When It Sees It

By Dan Bernstein

The NFL finally realized that penalizing touchdown celebrations is self-defeating, understanding its role as the latter of the Bread and Circuses that palliate our pained human existence.

As long as the activity isn’t deemed offensive, the thinking goes, why not have some fun with it?

This comes after a crackdown last year that resulted in numerous penalty flags for such partying that cast the league in a negative light both internally and in the minds of fans now conditioned to enjoy such moments becoming harmless, viral video content. So free the Fun Bunch, start those snow angels, work on the Nae Nae and pantomime acts, since it’s mostly all kosher again.

Even using the ball as a prop is fine, now, allowing for newly creative performance art upon scoring that can be even more abstract or dramatic. It has been a baby to rock, a bottle from which to swig and a basketball to be dunked. And now the possibilities are boundless, provided it’s something other than, say, a hand grenade. We’ll know an act crosses a line when we see it, and that appears to be the standard that officials will apply.

The owners also voted in a reduction in overtime length from a full quarter of 15 minutes to just 10 minutes, ostensibly to alleviate injury risk in the handful of games each year that extend that long. It’s a weak and fishy justification, relying on unscientific guesswork of coaches, that concluded that fatigued players are more at risk at that time. It sounds more like a giveback they can point to when asking for a union concession in collective bargaining down the road.

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A more significant rule change remains in preliminary stages of discussion, but will likely be tabled for further consideration. The Washington franchise proposed a short-term disabled list just for concussions, similar to the one baseball instituted without controversy in 2011. In this idea — one recommended by a recent Harvard study commissioned by the NFLPA — a player who has suffered a head injury could be put on the exempt list on a week-to-week basis and replaced on the roster for that time. Though it seems sensible, some reports describe predictable headwinds to ratification, with some owners expressing concern over how it could be exploited as a competitive loophole that allows teams to game the increased roster flexibility.

But the real reason for resistance is both more obvious and more insidious, clearly, as we are very much aware of the NFL’s reluctance to confront its dangerous reality. Creating a customized, specific list highlights the head trauma issue that haunts football. And the last thing those in power want is to remind us just how much head trauma is occurring in mundane game action with a weekly series of announced transactions. It’s easy for baseball, since head injury is peripheral to the game and not endemic. Or, to be more cynical, baseball is not getting sued for years of lying about it.

It all makes sense in the bigger picture, really. Look over there, fans, where that wacky wide receiver is dancing the bossa nova with the center in the end zone. Watch the tight end pretend the football is a piñata, the running back do the “Running Man” and the QB dabbing his heart out.

Keep your eyes and social media attention on that, and not the fact of all their brains being beaten up.

Dan Bernstein is senior columnist on CBS Chicago and co-host of “Boers & Bernstein” on Chicago’s 670 The Score.

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