During his run for president, Donald Trump has been highly critical of the NFL, a sport he sees as growing "soft like the country has become soft" and he repeated that theme Wednesday at a rally in Lakeland, zeroing in on concussion protocol.
A woman fainted during his speech and he took the opportunity to contrast her quick recovery with that of NFL players:
"That woman was out cold, and now she's coming back. We don't go by these new, and very much softer, NFL rules. Concussions — Oh! Oh! Got a little ding on the head. No, no, you can't play for the rest of the season.' Our people are tough."
During the NFL playoffs in January, Trump expanded on that theme at a Reno, Nev., rally.
"It's a Sunday, who the hell wants to watch these crummy games? I just want to watch the end. ... What I just said about a game — so I'm watching a game yesterday. What used to be considered a great tackle, a violent head-on (tackle), a violent — if that was done by Dick Butkus, they'd say he's the greatest player. If that were done by Lawrence Taylor — it was done by Lawrence Taylor and Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke, right? Ray Nitschke — you used to see these tackles and it was incredible to watch, right?
"Now they tackle. 'Oh, head-on-head collision, 15 yards.' The whole game is all screwed up. You say, 'Wow, what a tackle.' Bing. Flag. Football has become soft."
The NFL has cracked down on hits to the head amid a lawsuit over head injuries that resulted in a $1 billion settlement with former players in April 2015. Some former players have asked the Supreme Court to block the settlement because of how it treats current brain injuries versus future ones. The league also has changed the way it handles concussions, establishing a protocol in light of a growing evidence linking the accumulation of hits to the head to chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE leads to memory loss, depression, confusion and other neurological and psychological issues.
Trump might have actually been onto one thing, though, in January, when he also told the Reno crowd that NFL games were now boring. TV ratings have shown significant decline this season, with plenty of people believing that an intense presidential campaign that devours headlines is partly to blame.
"It's become weak and you know what? It's going to affect the NFL. I don't even watch it as much anymore. It's going to affect the NFL. I don't watch it," he said in January. "The referees, they want to all throw flags so their wives see them at home. 'Oh, there's my husband.' (Laughter) It's true. 'He just broke up - he just gave a 15-yard penalty on one of the most beautiful tackles made this year.' Right?
"It's boring — although I love Tom Brady. I gotta tell you. I do love Tom. He's a great guy. But it's different. But it's become soft and our country has become soft."