You can now read 10 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

The Boston Globe

Sports

Bob Ryan

NFL changes aren’t going away

We have arrived at what you call NFL Week 17 and it is time for all the Macho Man fans to stop whining. The NFL isn’t going back to the caveman days. A guy does stupid things with his head, a flag is going to fall. I mean, get used to it.

That’s the way it is, and that’s the way it’s going to be. A guy hits someone a half-inch out of bounds, a flag’s coming. Bet on it. A guy does other things you could have gotten away with in 1943, 1953, 1963, 1973, 1983, 1993, or 2003, a flag’s is on the way. Too bad. Deal with it.

Continue reading below

And boo-hoo if the game isn’t quite violent enough for you, Mr. Macho Man. I’m sure there’s a bloody UFC bout available somewhere.

We all know the game isn’t the one we’ve been accustomed to seeing, and that’s before we even get to the epidemic of pass interference (or, to stay trendy, “PI”) calls that infest every game. That’s an entirely different matter, and we’ll get to it. But there is a reason, and it’s a good one, for the change in NFL game, shall we say, policy, and last Sunday we had Exhibit A for our perusal.

The Detroit Lions have a 25-year-old tight end named Dorin Dickerson. That was news to me, but his low profile comes as no surprise given that this is his fifth organization since being drafted out of Pitt in Round 7 by the Houston Texans in 2010. He’s been a vagabond commodity since then, his perambulations even including a brief stint on the Patriots’ practice squad in 2011.

Dorin Dickerson has no job security. He is basically a week-to-week guy in a very dangerous sport. Last Sunday, he sustained a blow to the head during the game against the Giants. This wasn’t his first rodeo. He’s been hit before and he knew very well he was concussed.

And?

And he decided he wouldn’t tell anybody. He would tough it out. He didn’t ’fess up until he had dropped an easy pass and been called for holding on consecutive plays. By that time even the oft-clueless Lions’ coaching staff realized something was amiss with their tight end.

“I got a little concussion,” Dickerson explained afterward. “Should have reported it. Thought I could get through it.” Then came the best part. “I probably won’t even remember talking to you guys,” he joked.

The Dorin Dickerson episode plays into the Big Picture in so many ways. 1. The game is ultra-violent. 2. A low-level, completely expendable player such as Dorin Dickerson is so fearful of losing his job he risks his health in a very foolish manner. 3. At the highest level, the NFL no longer takes concussions as a regrettable, but unavoidable, cost of conducting its business. Having acknowledged his injury, Dorin Dickerson is now subject to a protocol before he will be allowed back on the field.

Let’s state the obvious. The game of football can never be made safe. The best anyone can hope for is to make it less hazardous. Baseball players, especially pitchers, get hurt. Basketball players get hurt. Hockey players, who are the first cousins to football players, get hurt. But none of the other participants get hurt with the frequency of football players. Despite all the talk about improved safety measures, there are still too many NFL players on injured reserve with season-ending injuries.

It’s a collision sport, remember. It’s a collision sport being played by bigger, faster and better-conditioned players than in previous generations. Every player in the league is sore all over the morning after a game. If you can’t play with some pain, you can’t play.

We are in a transition era, and no one knows what the end result will be. The NFL is asking for a significant change in football mentality on the part of coaches, some of whom have been in the game for 40 or more years, and players who have been bred to play in a certain way since high school, and the change is not coming easily. I just know it’s going to take at least a few years before those old instincts have been tamped down.

Re-teaching defensive backs how to tackle would be a good start. Sometime during the last two decades a majority of DBs stopped tackling and began what I call shoulder-rolling. And please stop with the moaning about there no longer being a significant target between the head and the knees. That is complete and utter BS.

The referees are there to enforce the rules, and I’m sure some of them are unsure of what’s permissible and what’s not, too. Factor them into this equation. Everyone is bleating that the officiating is the worst it’s ever been without taking into consideration the fact that the zebras are likewise caught up in this sea change in NFL thinking. All parties concerned need time to sort things out.

But none of this has anything to do with the PI issue. Why wouldn’t every quarterback launch continuous missiles into the end zone once he reaches the opposing 40-yard line? A first and goal at the 1 is a very likely outcome these days. We are all seeing way too many bogus PIs, involving minimal contact, and it’s got to stop.

These wideouts and tight ends are professionals, are they not? A little contact should not deter them. Catching the football is their job. Is it unreasonable to expect them to absorb a little push or bump every now and then? I’m not talking about grabbing and holding someone. I know you know what I mean, and I know you agree with me, even if you disagree with everything else I’ve said.

But some of you, who think it’s not football unless the other team’s quarterback is being carried off the field, well, I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree. That also means I can wish you a Happy New Year.

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week