It’s no secret that the NFL is going through a significant cultural shift. Gone are the days when toughness and playing through injuries were glorified as badges of honor. Today, the focus has shifted towards player safety and health, a movement underscored by the experiences of veterans like Indianapolis Colts center Ryan Kelly. Kelly shared his perspectives:
It’s a violent game. Guys should make as much money as they can in this league. Everybody has a 100% injury rate. Everybody’s going to get injured.
Mike Chappell’s story on Fox59 focuses on Ryan Kelly’s NFL career and experiences with head injuries. Kelly has sustained numerous injuries and concussions and took the time to share his experiences and perspective on the realities NFL players face.
If it’s between playing football and when I’m 60 having dementia and all these things you see that can come from playing football, of course I’m going to look after myself and my family.
Unsurprisingly, his experience with starting a family weighs heavily on his mind when he considers his NFL future and when it will be time to move on from football.
Once you become a father, you’re like, ‘I’ve got people I’ve got to look after.’ I’ve done really well in this league. I’ve made more money than I could have ever imagined.
Initiatives aimed at reducing head injuries, like the concussion protocol and rules penalizing helmet-to-helmet hits, are vital steps toward safeguarding players. Kelly’s thoughts on the impact of concussions and his priority of family and health over the game illustrate a changing mindset among players.
This shift is crucial not only for their well-being but also for the future of the sport. However, a byproduct of this shift is that careers are likely to be shorter than they have been in the past, and Colts fans have felt the impact of this with Andrew Luck’s early retirement.
While Kelly's comments don’t indicate that he is actively considering whether or not he still wants to play the game it is clear that he’ll be honest with himself when that time comes.
I’ll try to play the game as long as I can. I’ll go out there and give everything I’ve got. If ultimately I have more concussions, I’ll make a decision then, whatever that is.
However, this shift has not been without its controversies. Some fans and players have expressed concerns that specific rule changes may alter the fundamental nature of the game. While these concerns are valid and the adjustments should be careful not to change the nature of the game, it’s also true that football is much more than big hits.
As we continue to witness this cultural transformation, it’s imperative to balance the integrity of the game with the undeniable need to protect those who play it. Colts fans will have to hope that the NFL and the players union can find answers sooner rather than later, as keeping Ryan Kelly around for a long and healthy career is in everyone’s interest.