As long as the NFL wants to maximize profits, Thursday Night Football isn’t going anywhere. But as evidenced by the injuries suffered by the Seahawks and Cardinals this week, it’s obvious that protecting players is paramount. So how does the NFLPA and league find a solution?
GLENDALE, Ariz. — That was not the locker room of a team that just won on national television. That was not the scene of a group that improved to 6-3 and is just a half-game out of the division lead.
The Seahawks were not happy after their 22-16 victory over the Cardinals on Thursday night. They were wounded, they were saddened — they were freakin’ pissed off.
“Thursday Night Football should be illegal,” said Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, and, trust me, this wasn’t his most vehement quote of the day. “This is not OK. …. Guys do not have enough time to recover. You can’t recover in four days.”
This isn’t a novel argument among NFL players, but the carnage Thursday embodied what players have bemoaned for years. Baldwin played through a quad injury he incurred during warmups. Left tackle Duane Brown left the game because of a bad ankle, as did running back C.J. Prosise. Defensive tackle Jarran Reed exited because of a strained hamstring, cornerback Shaq Griffin hurt his back, linebacker Michael Wilhoite tweaked a calf, Kam Chancellor left the field on a cart because of a stinger, three Cardinals were placed on injured reserve, and Richard Sherman — the man who had not missed a game in his 6½ -year NFL career — suffered a season-ending Achilles-tendon rupture.
If this wasn’t the archetypical example of what’s wrong with Thursday Night Football, that example isn’t coming. When athletes partaking in the world’s most violent team sport have their recovery time cut in half, the result is an inferior product and banged-up bodies galore.
It isn’t safe. It isn’t healthy. And the Seahawks weren’t shy about voicing their disapproval.
“Thursday Night Football is really terrible. Bodies aren’t physically ready,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said. “It’s like a boxer having a match and then coming back to fight again a week later.”
“It was cool my rookie year, then I look at it and I’m like, ‘This is terrible,’ ” defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson added. “You just don’t have it on Thursday night.”
The only problem is that the bulk of America doesn’t seem to care. Thursday Night Football draws millions of viewers a week and added $900 million to the NFL’s TV revenue the past two seasons.
As long as the league wants to maximize its profits, those games aren’t going anywhere. And given how 47 percent of the league’s revenue goes to the players, rest assured they benefit from those profits, too.
Still, the saying is, “At least I have my health.” Not, “At least I have my cash.” Protecting players is paramount. So how does the NFLPA and league find a solution?
One way is to ensure that teams playing Thursday night are always coming off a bye week. Perhaps this means adding an extra week to the schedule so every team has two byes, or perhaps it means having fewer Thursday night games.
Another way is for the NFLPA to negotiate Thursday Night Football out of their lives when the collective-bargaining agreement expires in 2021.
Of course, there is a counterpoint to all of this.
In 2013, Bleacher Report columnist Dan Levy wrote a piece looking at NFL injuries on Thursday nights vs. other days of the week. Levy spoke to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, who said in 2012 the injury rate was 5.2 per game on Thursdays vs. 5.3 on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. McCarthy added that the league had heard from players (although he didn’t name any) who were “reacting positively to the lack of contact during the abbreviated practice week in preparation for a Thursday game, followed by the extended ‘mini bye week’ after.”
So I took this to Baldwin after the game Thursday night.
“People have made the argument the other way, saying the time you get off afterward offsets some of the stuff …”
Doug cut me off. He wasn’t having it.
“Tell them I said (expletive) you,” he said.
Yeah … I feel like Baldwin speaks for most the players. This isn’t a matter of whether a change is necessary, it’s a matter of how it’s going to happen.