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A Dangerous Game: Football fans clamor for hits, but safety is a concern

POSTED: July 14, 2012 10:30 p.m.

In 2004, the Madden football video game added the “Hit Stick” feature, a way to deliver high-impact tackles, to its best-selling NFL game.

It was, no pun intended, a hit.

The hashtag #HitStick is still trendy on Twitter.

Defensive_Back1 writes: “Scanning the players on the side line before opening kickoff and thinkin imma knock him out.” And from lorenzio_4, “I love it when the whole crowd goes Oooo after a big hit.”

Whether on a video game or on the gridiron, the big hits are akin to the crashes in a NASCAR race or the fights in a hockey game: They capture fans’ attention.

So alterations to improve the safety of the game, from the NFL to Pop Warner, have been met with a sometimes angry response among a number of fans.

“We are a society that thrives on violence,” said local video game store manager Eric Hollis.

Hollis, a fan of both video game and actual football, added that he doesn’t want to see players hurt or permanently disabled.

“Do we need to make the game safer? Of course,” he said.

Jeff Floyd, a Gainesville resident, was watching golf at the Wild Wings recently when he talked about his thoughts on the game.

“I believe in the old days like it was,” he said. “It was rougher back then, people played with broken bones, and I don’t think the athletes now can compete like they did back then. It’s made me watch less professional football.

But they are looking after the safety of the players, and that’s probably the best thing.

“I do love hitting, but I don’t want flagrant fouls.”

It’s a common reaction for football fans, who generally want the physicality of the game they grew up with, but not the lingering effects of those big hits.

Flowery Branch rising senior linebacker Jacob Allen, a Division-I prospect, understands the fans’ perspective on the new rule changes, which include moving kickoffs to the 35-yard line to reduce dangerous returns, a focus on protecting defenseless receivers, and enforcing penalties more often for hits with the helmet.

“A lot of fans would say it’s taking away from the game of football,” Allen said.

However, Allen added that his health is still of the utmost importance. While he still goes for big hits, he said he has no intention of injuring himself or other players.

Bob Fowler has seen his fair share of those high school football injuries while working on the chain crew at Gainesville High home games for more than a decade.

“I think the changes are good for player safety,” said Fowler, also a Georgia season-ticket holder. “If it keeps somebody from getting hurt, then it’s probably good.”

He added that the changes, especially at the college level, aren’t as big a deal as some would make them out to be.

And all Trey Paris wants is to see a balance between keeping the game intact while protecting the players.

“I think you’ve got to find the right balance. Football is a contact sport, so in many respects you know what you’re signing up for when you play football — it’s not tiddlywinks,” said Paris, a Gainesville resident and former president of the Georgia alumni association whose son plays football at Lakeview Academy. “Having said that, you certainly want to do everything you can to provide the utmost in injury prevention. You don’t want to see anyone taken out for an injury.”


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