New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Matthew Slater of the New England Patriots against the Arizona Cardinals. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Many football fans would agree on this dichotomy: we love the game of football, but we can’t stand the National Football League.

That is, the way it’s run, the way it treats players. Especially in their post-playing careers, but also while they’re playing. And it’s only become more detestable as the NFL takes micro-measures to give off the appearance of caring about “health” and “player safety,” when the truth is once players can no longer play they are discarded like rotten pieces of meat.

That’s why it was so refreshing to hear Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater give such an impassioned defense of actual player health and safety when he spoke after practice on Wednesday.

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  • Obviously, Slater has a major stake in the kicking game and its mere existence in the league, as a five-time All-Pro and 10-time Pro Bowler as one of the league’s all-time great gunners. So he admitted his bias up front. But that doesn’t make his candid comments on the league any less true.

    Fans may watch the games either way, with or without actual kick returns. We mostly accept the weekly violence. But every football fan on the planet should agree that the league could stand to treat its players, especially retired ones, exponentially better, and that reducing kick returns is not a real, actual safety measure that would actually have a notable impact on the game.

    Slater made similar comments on Wednesday, when asked about the rule change, and he was honest about being protective of kickoff plays themselves. But his remarks on the league and how it really handles “health” and “safety” are a must-read. Keep reading below for the full 770-word comment.

  • LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 18: Matthew Slater #18 of the New England Patriots leaves the field after the team's 30-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

  • “Well, you know, I’ll say this, obviously, when you ask me that, there’s going to be a reaction that I have that is unique from most players in this league. So I do have a bias about this, right? So we’ll get that out there.

    “You know, it’s my understanding that the powers that be think that this is going to improve player safety and health. I’m just not convinced that our league is always going to do what’s in the best interest of our players.

    “I understand that we want to reduce head injuries and things of that nature, but we don’t always act as if player health and safety is paramount. We can talk about the Thursday night games. That’s an easy one. I mean, that’s low-hanging fruit.

  • “But we can also talk about the issues that our players experience once they leave the game. Why is it that we have to fight for health care beyond five years out of the game? Why is it that when players go to file for benefits, in terms of disability, they’re having to jump through hoops nonstop? Why is it that we’re continuing to fight the battle that we’re fighting about grass versus turf?

    “We all know data can be skewed and projected in any way you want to slice it up. You know, whether it’s relative data, absolute data. I mean, that’s a whole different conversation. But for me, I look at this game, it’s been played for over 100 years, and it’s clear to me that they’re making an effort to eradicate this play [kick returns].

    “They say that they’re making the play safer, but the reality is they haven’t done a single thing to make the play safer. They haven’t changed the rules. They haven’t changed the techniques. There’s still going to be collisions that occur if the ball is not fair-caught.

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 18: Wide receiver Matthew Slater #18 of the New England Patriots runs onto the field for warmups before a game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Raiders defeated the Patriots 30-24. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

  • “Now, I understand there are some things are going have to be sorted out with the rule and we’ll see how that plays itself out. But, I’m a big purist when it comes to the game of football. And when you start tinkering with things that have been in place for over a hundred years – and I’ve gone back and I’ve looked at the rule changes and some of them have been good, I’ve been a part of eradicating the two-man wedges and things like that – but in this case, I just don’t believe that this is truly in the name of player health and safety.

    “What I do believe is we want to portray ourselves a certain way to the public, to you guys, that says ‘We care about the players.’ But I can give you a long list of examples – and I’ve been around this game for almost 40 years – I can give you a long list of examples where the league and the powers that be do not act in the best interest of the players. And why is it that so many of my dad’s teammates are in bad shape and looking to the league to help them?

    “If we really cared about player safety and health, let’s look at it on a grand scale. Let’s not take away a play that really doesn’t impact the bottom line for the league, right? It doesn’t impact that. We’re not taking Patrick Mahomes off the field. We’re not taking those guys off the field, right? And I get that. I understand that. And I know that people will look at this and say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ But I understand for a player like myself, I wouldn’t have had a career, most likely, [without] this play.

  • Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater. (Photo by Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)

    Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports

  • “And I understand the players that have come before me – the [Steve] Taskers, the [Bill] Bates, the ‘Limousine Woody’s’ [Norwood Vann], you have the look that one up, that played with my dad – guys like that who, you know, were able to establish themselves in the kicking game and able to have careers in this league because of the kicking game.

    “And in a lot of cases, the kicking game gave them a platform to reach beyond. But again, I go back to this. If we’re really concerned with player safety and health, let’s talk about some of the real issues that are going to impact player safety and health. Let’s not talk about a play where over 99 percent of the time, when the ball’s kicked off, is injury-free. Those are the facts. Those are the stats. You can go look them up yourself.

    “So, does that answer your question? How I feel about that? Alright.”

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    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.

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