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Blast Furnace: Prom Date Rule has nothing to do with toughness

Blast Furnace

Welcome to the inaugural installment of The Blast Furnace. Moving forward, I will use this space to analyze anything and everything that strikes a nerve with me about the on- and off-the-field issues facing the Steelers in their quest to capture their seventh Lombardi Trophy.

At this point, those of you who have read my posts in the past might be wondering what makes The Blast Furnace different from what I’ve been writing for the past two months. Honestly, the content won’t change. My passion for all things Steelers is unwavering, and my sincere hope is that you’ll find my writing as comforting as a fridge full of I.C. Light on game day. Whether you do or you don’t, let me know in the comments.

For the first installment of The Furnace (that’s what the cool kids are calling it), I want to delve a little deeper into the so-called Prom Date Rule that came to light earlier this week during a radio interview with former Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden. During a discussion about the early retirement of 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, McFadden shared that he and his teammates didn’t want to show weakness by having to get “prom escorted” off the field after a particularly jarring hit.

Week-in and week-out, NFL players are lauded for their toughness, but popping a dislocated finger back into place on the sideline to get back into the lineup is far different than going back on the field after suffering a traumatic brain injury. With the myriad protocols now in place to keep athletes from returning to games when they exhibit concussion symptoms, it’s disturbing – but not really unexpected – to learn that players were operating under the Prom Date Rule as recently as 2008.

Showing weakness – or “sleep”, as McFadden called it – on the field after a big hit shouldn’t be taboo, but in the man-up-or-shut-up culture that permeates sports at all levels, there’s no denying the fact that outward displays of being “soft” are frowned upon. Whether someone verbalizes it or not, players are expected to rub dirt on it and line up for the next play.

No player wants to be taken off the field after having their proverbial bell rung, but let’s set aside the serious risk of long-term brain damage for a second. If a guy can’t see straight or keep his balance, isn’t the sideline where he belongs? Teammates might admire a guy’s grit or will to win for wanting to stay in the game, but it’s hard enough to defend against today’s high-octane offenses with 11 healthy guys. Doing it with 10 and a guy who can’t remember what day it is – let alone his responsibility on a specific defensive play call – is detrimental to the team.

The most disconcerting thing to me is that this Prom Date Rule (or something like it) may still exist in NFL locker rooms today. It’s not like they were ever written down anywhere in the first place, so teams could still be operating under these types of unofficial tough-guy mandates in 2015. They’d be more difficult to abide by with team and league physicians stepping in to administer concussion protocol tests at the first sign of trouble during games, but I’m sure things still slip through the cracks.

In the bigger, stronger, faster NFL that we’ve all come to know, the players who sacrifice their minds and bodies to delight the thousands of screaming fans in attendance and the millions watching at home are plenty tough. If they need a teammate or trainer to put an arm around them to get them off the field every now and then, so be it.

Kevin Ritchart joined the Steelers Gab writing staff in January 2015. He is a veteran writer and editor who has a passion for all things black and gold. In addition covering local high school and college sports for the Trib Total Media family of newspapers for more than a decade, Kevin also possesses a wealth of professional experience in the fields of marketing and advertising. Kevin earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky in 1998 and completed work on his MBA in marketing at Argosy University in 2013. He’s enjoying his current role of freelance writer and stay-at-home dad. You can follow Kevin on Facebook, Twitter @KevinRitchart and Google Plus. To see Kevin's full bio please go to our Meet Our Staff page.

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