WARNING: Football is changing!

If you break it down to the basics, football is one of the last things in society of its kind. No longer do we award people regularly for being big and strong. Skinny jeans are proof of that. Where else but football can you find someone at 275 pounds asked by superiors to please be over 300 by the start of work?

Football is about big, fast, explosive men, running into each other in order to get a leather lump across a painted line. It is archaic and brutish and we love it!

After a football game, those of us who played the game all used to gather around, pull up a seat and talk about the great “lights out” hit that jarred loose the football and allowed our team to score, or maybe that guy who lowered his head and hit the defender at the goal line and laid him on his back with 30 seconds left to give us the win.

Those that watched from the stands and at home relived those bone-jarring collisions courtesy of highlight reel films from Steve Sabol like those titled “Bone Crunchers,” “Thunder and Destruction” and “Big Blocks and King-Sized Hits.” (Many of those and similar programs are still available for purchase via NFL Films.)

Now we have something totally new to talk about, something that changes the way we see the game. Today, a new question is being asked:

“Should that have been a penalty?”

That question is the new topic of discussion after or during most NFL games. Whether you are at home, at the bar, or the host of a sports talk show (guilty), personal fouls, and helmet-to-helmet contact is now, and will forever be, a topic conversation for every NFL game.

“Should that have been a penalty?” and more specifically, “Should that have been a personal foul?” is a part of football. Every hit is now analyzed and critiqued. What once was relished and applauded is now condemned, flagged and fined. Like it or not, agree or disagree, makes no difference; our manly man rough and violent sport is changing.

On Wednesday morning “SportsCenter” dedicated 12 of its 60 minute broadcast (minus about 18 minutes of commercials) to a segment called “Protecting Cam Newton,” which dissected the big hits levied on the Panthers quarterback during Week 1 in Denver. In total, the Broncos laid bodies on Newton 17 times, the second highest number of his career. ESPN made sure to note in a graphic that just one of the hits drew a roughing the passer penalty. Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis – a man known throughout his NFL career for absorbing punishing hits from defenders – came on as a guest expert and said that many of the hits against Newton may have crossed a line.

Every year, the NFL and all of its committees come together and make new rules based on player safety and fan experience. This is one big balancing act. Quite honestly, it might be the biggest game played all year, NFL players versus entertainment value. How do we have our nachos, and eat them too?

On Wednesday, commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL announced “Play Smart, Play Safe,” an initiative that includes a $100 million research pledge “to drive progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of head injuries, enhance medical protocols and further improve the way the game is taught and played by all who love it.”

It is a hard position for the NFL, which needs to find the sweet spot. They can’t take away the game fully; that would lose eyes, followed by sponsors, followed by money. And they cannot put the players at risk; they are the employees who make the game what it is. So the NFL has to find a way to give the gladiators in the arena rubber swords and hope no one notices the lack of blood in the sand.

I have no resolution to this, but I do have a suggestion: Be thankful we get to ask the question, “Should that have been a penalty. Should that have been a personal foul?” Because soon the answer will ALWAYS be yes, and football will look nothing like football at all.