Keeping Score

Can Tough Guy Ronnie Lott Bring a Gentler NFL?

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Professional football player Ronnie Lott arrives at All Stars Fantasy Football League draft party to benefit All Stars Helping Kids at Light Nightclub on July 20, 2007

Denise Truscello/WireImage/Getty

Today Ronnie Lott, the Hall of Fame defensive back, was named a co-chair of the NFL Player Safety Panel, a group of former players, coaches, and executives charged with figuring out ways to make football a tamer game. John Madden, the former coach and broadcaster, will also lead the committee. As science has shed more light on the health risks involved with football, especially as it pertains to the long-term brain damage resulting from frequent, violent hits, the NFL has stepped up its efforts to improve safety.

Lott, who achieved great business success after retiring in 1994, is certainly an ironic choice for this position: he was famous for his bone-crushing hits. When asked what it was like to be hit by him, Lott once said, “Grab a football, throw it in the air, and before you catch it, have your best friend belt you with a baseball bat. No shoulder pads. No helmet. Just you, your best friend and the biggest Louisville Slugger you can find.”

(See how to make football safer.)

Ouch. Now, Lott is going to advocate for safety? He must be a reformed man. In fairness, Lott is one of the most intelligent and respected former players out there. But it’s interesting to wonder: if Lott the player had been told to alter his style, which many current stars feel the more safety-conscious NFL is asking them to do, what would have been his honest reaction?  Don’t be shocked if some skeptical players ask Lott the same thing.

(See how football affects players’ brains.)

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