As the NFL has tried to improve player safety in recent years, it has received considerable backlash – from fans, from analysts, and even from players. Steelers safety Mike Mitchell was the latest example. He went off on Roger Goodell on Wednesday and said, in essence, that the league should just start playing flag football. Not everyone, however, agrees.

Take Ronnie Lott, for example. When asked if modern football resembles the game he played in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Lott didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah, it does,” the Pro Football Hall of Famer and four-time Super Bowl champion said on Tiki and Tierney. “It does. It’s exciting, there are great athletes, guys doing different things to put themselves in position to make incredible plays – and then there are guys that we all know are using their minds to be able to find ways to play the game the way that it needs to be played and playing it within the guidelines.”

 

 

In other words, they’re not head-hunting. Or flattening defenseless players.

“Is it different? Yeah, of course it’s different,” said Lott, 58. “I always use this analogy: With Barry Bonds, when they changed the strike zone, was it different? Yeah. Could he adjust? He did. We all adjust, whether it was Oscar Robertson or you think about Wilt Chamberlain when they thought there’s certain things we have to do to deal with him.”

That’s just the nature of sports. Rules changes aren’t unique to football, and this won’t be the last time the game veers down an alternative route.

“My point is, that’s sports and it evolves,” Lott said. “The bigger question is are we learning? I have a lot of friends (who say), ‘Oh, you would get fined so much (if you played today).’ And I look at them (and say), ‘Do you really believe that my mother would allow me to get fined? My mother would kill me.’ What she would say is, ‘You’re telling them you can’t learn? You can’t learn to get better? You can’t learn how to play under the guidelines of today?’ And clearly knowing what I know, yes, I can learn how to play under the guidelines.

“Would I have moments where I would miss a target?” Lott continued. “I hope not. But clearly when I think of what Pete Carroll has done and I think of what other teams have done and what I’ve seen and seeing guys now pull up and trying to avoid the hit – yes, you do see guys that are making the effort of understanding that the game has changed, and they’re playing within the guidelines of the rules. I like it. And the reason I like it is it’s still football.”

And that, at least for Lott, is never going to change.

“Whether it’s in college, whether it’s in high school, when you see a great hit and it’s done properly and it’s not above the shoulder pads and it’s right in the sweet spot and the guy is being taken down, the crowd still gives you the woo and it fires up the team,” Lott said. “It does all the right things. So you can do all of those things and still do it under the guidelines of knowing that these are the new rules, and these are the rules we’re going to abide by.”

In other news, the Ronnie Lott Impact Trophy will be awarded Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network. The finalists this year are Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama), Josey Jewell (Iowa), Micah Kiser (Virginia), and Harrison Phillips (Stanford). Vote for the winner here.

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