From the top on down

Published 8:26 pm Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pro athletes are role models. It’s funny that we get surprised when a franchise or league owns the fact and refers to it in making a good decision.

Tuesday on an ESPN radio show, an NFL executive said one reason the league has to do more to stop “helmet to helmet” or “devastating” hits is when NFL players do something — from how they tackle to Sharpies in socks — college, high school and Pop Warner players do it too.

Hits targeting the head are already illegal by the NFL’s book. Facemask and horse-collar penalties are there for the same reason. They’ve all resulted in fines before. The NFL said it will enforce its rules better and stronger from this point on, even if it’s on Monday or Tuesday while looking at replays.

Young athletes copy pros in lots of ways, and quickly. Most of the emulation is good, healthy, funny and/or motivating.

Even in the case of hitting an opposing player by launching your head and helmet directly at his head, it’s not a matter of playing dirty or trying to hurt someone. It’s more straightforward than that.

If a Steeler, Falcon or Patriot, who plays the same position I do, got to where he’s at playing like that, some kids will think, maybe I should copy him as much as I can.

Nansemond River’s football team was decked out in pink wristbands, socks and towels one night, the Monday after the NFL had Breast Cancer Awareness Day with every team wearing pink.

A couple Fridays ago, Lakeland’s sideline shouted “Boom!” with every good play the Cavaliers made. By my count anyway, it was three days after I saw the first Nike “Boom” ad on TV.

As omnipresent as the NFL is, it’s not just football that has a responsibility to its young fans. It’s any sport with lots of games and highlights on TV.

At any Nansemond-Suffolk soccer game, you can’t go 15 minutes without a player disagreeing with a referee with reactions and mannerisms identical to what a soccer fan sees in every World Cup or English Premier League game.

Score a goal and act like an airplane, then run to the corner flag; which makes sense only when thousands of your country’s or club’s fans are in the stands at that corner of the stadium.

Football fans like the big hits. Every channel with something to do with the NFL runs a collage of huge, car-crash collisions after each week’s games. The NFL is a tad hypocritical to market its sport’s violence and legislate it.

The NFL’s prime motive is to stop such hits before there’s a truly graphic injury, or worse, live on national TV, one bad enough to turn fans away from the sport.

If a secondary reason is so younger football players are better off, good for the NFL there, as well.