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The League Knows Best: How the Nanny State Has Invaded the NFL

The nanny state surrounds us. At every level of government politicians legislate and bureaucrats regulate in the name of our own good. The news media dole out tips and suggestions as if viewers and readers had no common sense. These days, we even have unelected officials trying to tell us what to eat. So, you'd hope that the one place we could escape the nanny state would be the sports world, right?

This nanny statism in sports isn't new. In his Pictorial History of the University of Georgia, F. N. Boney, a former professor of mine, recounts how a tragic accident nearly led to the abolition of football in Georgia, thanks so some well-meaning legislators:

When a game against Virginia in Atlanta in 1897 ended in the death of a Georgia player, Von Gammon, a drive to abolish the sport developed. All over the nation football was causing many serious injuries and some deaths. A bill abolishing football sailed through the state legislature, but [professor and pioneering football coach Charles] Herty continued to champion the game, insisting that better facilities and equipment would eliminate excessive dangers, and Von Gammon’s mother defended Herty and football, the game her son “held so dear.” Governor William Y. Atkinson had graduated in law from the university in 1877 and had been a trustee in 1891. A sports enthusiast, he had witnessed the fatal game in Atlanta. After much thought, he refused to sign the bill, and football survived in Georgia.

Of course, there is much to be said about ensuring safety and technology has gone a long way toward making any game less dangerous. Unfortunately, it seems that throughout professional sports, especially in the NFL, the league offices are stepping in to make changes, but players and fans alike think that rule changes go too far.