The Pro Bowl must die for the good of NFL football

As the NFL holds its Pro Bowl exhibition game tonight which sees its all star players face off against each other, much of the conversation centers not around who will win or even who is playing, but instead whether the Pro Bowl has a future. For pro football players, getting elected to the Pro Bowl is a big deal which can lead not only to national recognition beyond the local team’s fan base, but also a larger paycheck come contract time. Actually playing in the game, however, is another matter. Many players use minor injuries as an excuse to skip the game, reaping the rewards of having been elected without having to show up for it. And it’s not that they don’t want the free trip to Hawaii, where the game is held annually. It’s that unlike other major team sports, every football game in which a player participates has the potential to shorten his career…

While players getting injured in the all star games for Major League Baseball or the NBA aren’t unheard of, they’re rare. After all, they’re sometimes contact sports, but rarely collision sports. Football, however, has multiple violent collisions on every play. When a player gets injured in a contract year, he typically ends up with a smaller contract the next season. The team reasons that either there’s a chance he he’ll never fully bounce back from the injury, or that it’s a sign the player may be injury prone. So the Pro Bowl has long been a bit of a cream puff game, with players tacitly agreeing not to hit each other too hard for fear that someone’s career or contract lay in ruins by the time the exhibition game has ended. But that’s made the Pro Bowl less interesting to watch, and so voices from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning have called for the game to be taken more seriously by its participants. However, the real solution would be to simply kill the Pro Bowl off entirely…

Manning’s call for a more hard hitting competitive Pro Bowl has been countered by Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, who pointed out that quarterbacks like Manning rarely take hits under new rules anyway, while running backs are tackled nearly every time they carry the ball. The chances of a back like Foster being injured in the Pro Bowl are far greater than that of Manning. Goodell says that if the game isn’t taken more seriously, he might kill it off together. I think he’s onto something. Various efforts at making the game more relevant have failed. It was moved to Miami for a year, a game I attended. As a serious NFL fan, I was expecting an exciting experience. But despite the star power, it was the least interesting pro football game I’ve ever been to. Even if they’d been hitting harder, it didn’t matter. Unlike other sports which have their all star game in the middle of the season while the players’ teams are all still in contention and therefore relevant, the Pro Bowl has to be at the end of the year due to injury concerns, which means that all but two teams have been eliminated and therefore most of the players are already mentally done for the year. The game was moved from the week after the Super Bowl, when no one bothered to watch it, to the week before the Super Bowl, which only made things work because the top players from the two Super Bowl teams can’t participate for fear of – you guessed it – injury. So long as injuries remain a major part of NFL football, the “Pro Bowl” is a better game on paper than on the field. The best thing Goodell could do would be to kill it off and allow those elected to the game to simply enjoy the honor without having to play in a meaningless game in which their only real concern is not tearing up their knee.

Will Stabley
Will Stabley is the Founder and Senior Editor of Stabley Times.
Will Stabley