"If I was worried about my health," 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said, "I wouldn't be playing football."
So the league must figure out how to deal with "walking a fine line," as 49ers CEO Jed York described it: The two-sided task of making the game safer, which Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledges is imperative, while not making it "too safe," thereby diminishing the popularity of an enterprise that is violent by its very nature.
"There's no question that that is a bit of a conundrum. But to me, we've got to place more weight on player safety," New York Giants co-owner John Mara said. "The rules changes that we've implemented over the past five or six years have not made the game any less exciting. If anything, the game is as exciting as ever, and I strongly believe that we can make additional improvements in the rules and we're not going to lose anything in terms of excitement on the field."
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is convinced the NFL will strike the proper balance.
"What did they do for boxing when they made them go from 6-ounce, to 8-ounce to 12-ounce gloves or whatever? Did it change boxing? Not really," Bisciotti said. "I believe that with every change, there will be a correction. ... And I believe that we as a league and the [players' union] will agree on things that don't take football out of football."
In a series of moves that began shortly after Goodell was grilled at a congressional hearing, the league has changed concussion return-to-play guidelines, adjusted rules for kickoffs — and floated the idea of eliminating them altogether — stepped up punishment of illegal hits, and stopped arguing against the players' wish for independent neurology specialists on the sidelines during games.