Annunziata: Contact not allowed

Remember the "Our Balls are Bigger" campaign? A catchy phrase that epitomized what Canadian football players were all about. How the times have changed.

The CFL's league office released a statement earlier this week confirming yet another new CFL regulation designed to make the game "safer." The statement read in part:

"Contact will be restricted to a maximum of one practice a day during training camp, as will the use of shoulder pads and other protective equipment in addition to helmets. Only helmets can be worn for the other practice on the same day, and contact is not allowed."

It was received with mixed reaction (via CFL message board):

als rule:

"just like the entire attitude within the country LEFT WING leaning kumbyiah society afraid to do anything!! next thing you know the CFL will want me to buy tickets to their flag football which is next!!"

Tabbiefanmcb:

"A good idea to prevent injuries before the playing season really begins. How often have players been injured in TC leaving them out for all or a portion of the season? Not that this will totally prevent early injury, but it does reduce the risk."

Welcome to the new world of professional football. A kinder, gentler version, micro managed from high-above, designed to give non-contact sport enthusiasts a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Previously, coaches had the option of staging two practices featuring full pads and contact during training camp. Considering the climate of "political correctness" we live in and the over involvement of "governing bodies" in just about every aspect of our daily lives, removing that option from a head coach, somehow doesn't sit right with me. Not as a person concerned with the erosion of individual liberties and not as a football enthusiast concerned with the health of the sport.

Handling the business affairs of the league is one thing, but when the CFL head office starts micro-managing the game itself, football purists have every right to be critical. Taken in isolation, this latest rule change shouldn't set off too many warning bells. But after a decade of these kinds of rule changes, designed in part to limit the exposure of bad press related to the violent nature and after effects of pro football, taken collectively it signals an alarming trend.

I've never been a fan of government sponsored, nanny-state legislation. And when it creeps into my football, it becomes downright distasteful. Especially when it restricts the individual choices of coach's and players in a sport that, last time I checked, cannot be treated with one broad brush stroke when trying to get the best out of players.

Putting best intentions aside for a moment, meddling in the affairs of individual teams and how they conduct practice, is not my idea of progressive policy. Maybe I'm a little old school, but if a team -- during training camp no less -- is dragging ass, missing tackles and showing a general malaise that is not conducive to "getting better every day", I would think, in the cozy confines of the coach's meeting room, a general strategy can be developed that will shake the complacency out of the troops before a habitual, "kinder, gentler" linebacking corps shows up on opening day.

With some of those strategies taken off the table and with Big Brother hanging over a coach's shoulder, is the league really doing all it can to make the game better by eliminating options and wrestling control from a coaching staff? And if you're a coach, why would you let that happen? Expanding the tools in the tool box, not shrinking them, seems like a more practical approach when trying to get the most out of your players during a short training camp. Should the league office really be involved in coaching decisions and setting precedents that basically say "we've determined what's best in getting the most out of your players. Feel free to thank us for saving you from yourselves."

A coach and his staff, immersed in the daily grind of training camp, reading the pulse of his team, deciding between a kind word or a swift kick in the ass to get a players attention, will always be the best judge of what a team does or doesn't need in terms of "putting in their work." And although there are "old school" coaches and some do have bad days, very rarely are they taking it out on their team during two-a-days. In the bigger picture, irrelevant points when deciding to remove that option.

Understanding this was a "collaborative decision" - from players asking for changes to CFL team presidents and head coaches who supported it - doesn't make the decision any less suspect in a growing trend of rule changes over the last decade. It suggests that the practice of "risk management" in football, has somehow become the one, over-reaching objective. The cumulative effect being, to dramatically change the sport of football as we've known it. And depending on which side of the goal line you straddle, not necessarily for the better.

And before any of you "kinder, gentler" football fans start flooding my inbox with comments about health and safety, relax. I played for 11 seasons and I get all the league memos. I agree with rule changes that make sense in the context of playing the game respectfully and eliminating "cheap shots" that lead to injury or worse. I'm just not sold on the whole "safety" thing and how some think it should be accomplished.

Restricting contact is not a panacea for what ails an injury prone sport. But restricting contact will accomplish one thing...it will provide the optics that the sport can be made safer. Whether anyone is buying it, is another story.

Breeding soft football players that now come with built-in excuses for not delivering the "knockout shot" so engrained in football culture, will not lead to the end of injuries. It will only buy the sport some time to deal with the contradiction it has itself manufactured and continues to sell the football going public. Safe football? There is no such thing. Players get hurt, that's a fact. And why wouldn't they? This is football after all. A game played with the biggest, fastest, strongest athletes in the world, and grounded in the concept of high-speed collisions. Those of us who get that will never satisfy the "kinder, gentler" crowd. Not until our helmets are delivered on a silver platter, hitting eliminated and professional football played with flags rather than shoulder pads.

Sandy Annunziata is a two-time Grey Cup champion who battled in the trenches along CFL offensive-lines for 11 seasons. Hard hitting and thought provoking, he takes you beyond the field and inside the locker room as he delivers a candid view of the game, the health of the league, the business of sport and the sometimes fragile psyche of pro athletes.

Remember the "Our Balls are Bigger" campaign? A catchy phrase that epitomized what Canadian football players were all about. How the times have changed.

The CFL's league office released a statement earlier this week confirming yet another new CFL regulation designed to make the game "safer." The statement read in part:

"Contact will be restricted to a maximum of one practice a day during training camp, as will the use of shoulder pads and other protective equipment in addition to helmets. Only helmets can be worn for the other practice on the same day, and contact is not allowed".

It was received with mixed reaction (via CFL message board):

als rule:

"just like the entire attitude within the country LEFT WING leaning kumbyiah society afraid to do anything!! next thing you know the CFL will want me to buy tickets to their flag football which is next!!"

Tabbiefanmcb:

"A good idea to prevent injuries before the playing season really begins. How often have players been injured in TC leaving them out for all or a portion of the season? Not that this will totally prevent early injury, but it does reduce the risk."

Welcome to the new world of professional football. A kinder, gentler version, micro managed from high-above, designed to give non-contact sport enthusiasts a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Previously, coaches had the option of staging two practices featuring full pads and contact during training camp. Considering the climate of "political correctness" we live in and the over involvement of "governing bodies" in just about every aspect of our daily lives, removing that option from a head coach, somehow doesn't sit right with me. Not as a person concerned with the erosion of individual liberties and not as a football enthusiast concerned with the health of the sport.

Handling the business affairs of the league is one thing, but when the CFL head office starts micro-managing the game itself, football purists have every right to be critical. Taken in isolation, this latest rule change shouldn't set off too many warning bells. But after a decade of these kinds of rule changes, designed in part to limit the exposure of bad press related to the violent nature and after effects of pro football, taken collectively it signals an alarming trend.

I've never been a fan of government sponsored, nanny-state legislation. And when it creeps into my football, it becomes downright distasteful. Especially when it restricts the individual choices of coach's and players in a sport that, last time I checked, cannot be treated with one broad brush stroke when trying to get the best out of players.

Putting best intentions aside for a moment, meddling in the affairs of individual teams and how they conduct practice, is not my idea of progressive policy. Maybe I'm a little old school, but if a team -- during training camp no less -- is dragging ass, missing tackles and showing a general malaise that is not conducive to "getting better every day", I would think, in the cozy confines of the coach's meeting room, a general strategy can be developed that will shake the complacency out of the troops before a habitual, "kinder, gentler" linebacking corps shows up on opening day.

With some of those strategies taken off the table and with Big Brother hanging over a coach's shoulder, is the league really doing all it can to make the game better by eliminating options and wrestling control from a coaching staff? And if you're a coach, why would you let that happen? Expanding the tools in the tool box, not shrinking them, seems like a more practical approach when trying to get the most out of your players during a short training camp. Should the league office really be involved in coaching decisions and setting precedents that basically say "we've determined what's best in getting the most out of your players. Feel free to thank us for saving you from yourselves."

A coach and his staff, immersed in the daily grind of training camp, reading the pulse of his team, deciding between a kind word or a swift kick in the ass to get a players attention, will always be the best judge of what a team does or doesn't need in terms of "putting in their work." And although there are "old school" coaches and some do have bad days, very rarely are they taking it out on their team during two-a-days. In the bigger picture, irrelevant points when deciding to remove that option.

Understanding this was a "collaborative decision" - from players asking for changes to CFL team presidents and head coaches who supported it - doesn't make the decision any less suspect in a growing trend of rule changes over the last decade. It suggests that the practice of "risk management" in football, has somehow become the one, over-reaching objective. The cumulative effect being, to dramatically change the sport of football as we've known it. And depending on which side of the goal line you straddle, not necessarily for the better.

And before any of you "kinder, gentler" football fans start flooding my inbox with comments about health and safety, relax. I played for 11 seasons and I get all the league memos. I agree with rule changes that make sense in the context of playing the game respectfully and eliminating "cheap shots" that lead to injury or worse. I'm just not sold on the whole "safety" thing and how some think it should be accomplished.

Restricting contact is not a panacea for what ails an injury prone sport. But restricting contact will accomplish one thing...it will provide the optics that the sport can be made safer. Whether anyone is buying it, is another story.

Breeding soft football players that now come with built-in excuses for not delivering the "knockout shot" so engrained in football culture, will not lead to the end of injuries. It will only buy the sport some time to deal with the contradiction it has itself manufactured and continues to sell the football going public. Safe football? There is no such thing. Players get hurt, that's a fact. And why wouldn't they? This is football after all. A game played with the biggest, fastest, strongest athletes in the world, and grounded in the concept of high-speed collisions. Those of us who get that will never satisfy the "kinder, gentler" crowd. Not until our helmets are delivered on a silver platter, hitting eliminated and professional football played with flags rather than shoulder pads.

Sandy Annunziata is a two-time Grey Cup champion who battled in the trenches along CFL offensive-lines for 11 seasons. Hard hitting and thought provoking, he takes you beyond the field and inside the locker room as he delivers a candid view of the game, the health of the league, the business of sport and the sometimes fragile psyche of pro athletes.