Lem Barney: Great but Wrong | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Lem Barney: Great but Wrong


Here we go again.

Another person is proclaiming the death of football. This time, it is former Jackson State and Detroit Lions star Lem Barney.

"The game is becoming more deadly today," the Pro Football Hall of Famer said Friday. 
 "It's a great game. I think it's the greatest game if you like gladiators. It's the greatest game for yesteryear's gladiators. But I can see in the next 10 to maybe 20 years, society will alleviate football altogether."

For those who don't know, Barney was one of the greatest players to ever play for Jackson State. He went on to win defensive rookie of the year and, interestingly, sing background vocals on Marvin Gaye's classic, "What's Going On."

I think Barney is wrong about football going anywhere in the next 10 to 20 years. Is the sport going to change in some ways? Yes, but it is not going away, especially in the south.

But the sport could do a couple things to become safer for players.

One of the reasons Barney thinks football is going to die is because players are bigger, faster and stronger--they cause more damage.

An easy fix exists for that problem. The NFL and NFL Players Association need to start Olympic-style testing. I'm talking going all-in testing for doping, and that includes using biological passports, which were used for the first time in the Olympics in London.

Not to get bogged down in science, but the passport system monitors an athlete's blood profile over time to check for variations that indicate doping. The Olympics, cycling and tennis have already started using the system.

I bet there would be a lot of players who either quit or suddenly aren't as big, strong and fast if the NFL began using biological passports and continued the current testing.

If you want to make a sport safer, then start testing to get the cheaters out of the sport. Also, make it publicly known what substance a player tests positive for when they fail a test. Let everyone know what the player was taking when they failed. The NFL and NFLPA need to start outing the cheaters if both sides are serious about safety.

Finally, start tackling better. Tackling, from pee-wee level to high school to college to the NFL, is atrocious.

Football players either learn to tackle wrong or start bad tackling habits when they are young. These bad techniques follow a player as they continue their playing career to whatever level they ascend.

If a player can't tackle correctly, a coach needs to have the guts to not put that player on the field. Players might actually work on tackling correctly if they aren't allowed to play.

Offensive players can help out with safety and tackling by not trying to hit the turf before they get hit. Offensive skill players (running backs and receiver) all too often try go down ruining the safe tackling spots for defensive players.

I think Barney was a great football player, but he is wrong on this issue. Football can be saved, but we need to act now.

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