If the National Football League continues its fundamental transformation of the game in the name of safety, Baltimore Ravens’ Bernard Pollard predicts the league will cease to exist in 30 years.
“Thirty years from now, I don’t think it will be in existence,” Pollard told CBSSports.com. “I could be wrong. It’s just my opinion, but I think with the direction things are going — where [NFL rules makers] want to lighten up, and they’re throwing flags and everything else — there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.”
The strong safety has a reputation for hard hits. His hit on quarterback Tom Brady in the 2008 season opener resulted in a torn ACL, ending Brady’s season. Just last week, Pollard was fined $15,250 for unnecessary roughness for a hit on New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker in the AFC championship game.
Pollard defended his reputation.
“I’ve been taught to play one way my whole career, my whole life, and I’ve never been a malicious player,” he said. “I play the game hard and physical, just the way our defense does. You can’t play it any other way because it means you’re thinking. And in a fast-paced game, you can’t play that way.”
The strong safety said he sympathizes with the league’s attempts to ensure player safety and even fears that “one day there’s going to be a death that takes place on the field because of the direction we’re going.” But he believes that what the league expects is at odds with what the coaches want.
“At the same time, [coaches] want bigger, stronger and faster year in and year out. And that means you’re going to keep getting big hits and concussions and blown-out knees,” Pollard said, adding, “You’ve got guys who are 350 pounds running 4.5 and 4.4s, and these owners and coaches want scout-run blockers and linemen to move walls. At the same time, they tell you, ‘Don’t hit here, and don’t hit there, or we’ll take your money.'”
In a recent interview with The New Republic magazine, President Obama weighed in on the issue of violence and injuries in football. Using one of his favorite hypotheticals, Obama stated, “If I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football.”
And while he conceded that the rule changes “may make the game a little less exciting,” Obama asserted that it “will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won’t have to examine our consciences quite as much.”
Pollard seemingly disagrees.
“Guys are getting fined, and they’re talking about, ‘Let’s take away the strike zone’ and ‘Take the pads off’ or ‘Take the helmets off.’ It’s going to be a thing where fans aren’t going to want to watch it anymore,” he said.
And most importantly, Pollard said football players “understand what they signed up for.”
“Football is a violent sport, and sometimes bad things happen. Some people don’t like it. But at the end of the day, I’ve got to feed my family, and this is how I do it.”