Ron “JAWS” Jaworski weights N !!
Interview with former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski!
The Polish American Football League (PLFA) holds its eighth championship,
quarterback Ron “Jaws” Jaworski, known in his playing days as “the Polish Rifle” due to his Polish heritage, attended as a special guest.
Jaws, currently an NFL analyst for American sports television network ESPN and one of the owners of indoor American football team the Philadelphia Soul, knows plenty about the sport. Here, he tells WBJ about what the league needs to do to grow, how to deal with safety issues and whether the sport can
You’ve had plenty of experience running a football team as a business. How would you market American football to a skeptical audience such as Poles, who know little about the sport?
They have to see it. When there are 25,000 people in the stands and they see American football, people will fall in love with the game. It’s physical, it’s fast, there’s plenty of scoring. It’s almost like when soccer was coming to the United States, people would say, “It’s too low-scoring, it’s too slow-paced.” And now it’s becoming more popular. It takes time.
I think when Poles see it, when they see the action, the fast-paced nature of the game, they will begin to enjoy it. Now, it can be a little bit difficult to understand, but once people understand they all become experts (laughs).
Once people see it, they will really understand why people in America are so passionate about football. And football will become a global sport – maybe not in my lifetime, but somewhere down the road. [American] football, not “soccer football” will be the worldwide sport.
How do you think the league should go about improving the quality of play?
Number one, you have to have coaches. The coaches are teachers. And you need coaches to teach the game properly. Whether it’s the NFL, college football, or lower levels, the teams that are normally the most successful are the ones where the coaches are great teachers. So, if you apply that same philosophy to coming to Poland, you need good teachers – coaches are
Second, you have to develop feeder systems. The key to the NFL is the collegiate feeder system. The key to the collegiate feeder system are junior colleges and high schools, and for high schools it’s middle schools and little leagues. So there’s a continual feeder system that trains these athletes and teaches these athletes how to play football. That’s what has to be developed
How do you see the progress of the league so far?
I think what has been done here has been a monumental improvement. I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about. Two years ago, we had this wacky idea of doing football in India. They don’t know football rules, they couldn’t get down into a three-point stance, I mean literally these were guys who knew nothing about football. Nine months later we had scrimmages of 11-on-11. You can go on the web now and have a look at it. It looks like a good state championship game in Illinois or Ohio. It’s good high school football.
We taught 12,000 players football in India. We sent over coaches like Doug Plank, a former NFL player with the Bears. Doug was the head coach for the Philadelphia Soul and he coached for the New York Jets and for Ohio State. You know, he spent six weeks teaching and training and coaching these players, so a short period of time – and it was amazing how fast they learned the game. So, that’s where the teaching comes in, the coach comes in. And all of a sudden the
The Polish league is currently semi-professional, with most of the players just participating for fun, and a few players on each team, usually Americans, paid to play. Should the PLFA work towards becoming a wholly professional league?
Yes. Because what will happen is some teams will do well, from a business standpoint, and they’ll buy the best players and you lose the competitive edge to the game.
That is happening to a degree already, with the top four teams able to attract the best talent.
The issue the league will have down the road is: How do you keep that competitive balance equal for all the teams? But clearly, if you want to attract the best players you have to compensate them. I think you’ll see guys wanting to come to Poland to play, guys that are playing the Arena football league or Canadian football league. The player pool is overflowing. For the Philadelphia Soul we do tryouts. Four hundred guys show up off the street to try out. I mean, players are not the problem, but finding good ones is another thing.
One of the major issues in any football league is health problems. How do you feel about the current state of health care for NFL players today and how has it changed since your playing
It’s an issue that continues to be debated every single day. Football is a physical game. When you go into the game you know there are going to be injuries. There’s a warrior mentality. It’s a badge of honor. There’s a toughness part of it and you don’t play unless you are tough, you’re competitive and you can withstand taking a beating.
It truly is a badge of honor to play football. I don’t care if you’re 10 years old, it’s a tough game to play. Now, you are also well aware that there are potential injuries. You know, the NFL is being inundated with lawsuits about concussions and no one has the answers yet. The good thing is the technology in the medical fields are incredible. They are now finding answers.
Do you think that the league is doing enough?
I think they are now. I think [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell has done a tremendous job of focusing on concussions and focusing on injuries, focusing on former players. And I think the league office gets a lot of the blame but also, I have to blame our players association. I don’t think [the player’s association] has done enough. I think because of the money in the NFL game more should be done to protect the players.
I think the equipment manufacturers are doing a great job: helmets are better, equipment is better, technology is better. Everything is better. But you are never going to get away from the human body. Knees only bend one way, hits to the head cause trauma. But it’s not only football. Watch soccer kids, they’re getting head trauma. Watch a hockey game. It’s not only a football problem. The good lord gave us each just one body. Joints only go one way. Head trauma? I don’t care if you walk into a door or you get hit by a tackler, there’s going to be a brain rattling
But it’s particularly a problem for American football. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission found that in terms of injuries per participant, football was the worst in terms of the injury-to-participation rate – 5 percent of players are injured, and head injuries were the number-one type of injury reported. So that is one of the obstacles for the sport here in Poland. Parents are afraid to let their kids get involved. Aren’t they right to be worried?
It’s absolutely troubling and every parent is worried about the health of their kids. That being said, you could be playing hockey, you could be in gymnastics, you could be playing field hockey, you could be playing lacrosse, there is always that chance of injury. You are playing competitive sports with athletic people and injuries are going to be a part of it. And I’m not brushing aside the issue of football, because the basis of the game is violence.
However, that being said, I also think that the technology now is so much better, the coaching is so much better, the training is so much better. I think you’ll see those things being managed. I had 32 concussions in my career, but medically, we’re light years ahead of where we were when I played. Each year there are incredible advances in sports technology, in sports training, in the medical field. Our doctors are better, training staffs are better and the rules are better. Guys don’t go back into the game until they’re checked by the doctor. It’s a rule.
A lot of players complain about the rule changes.
They’re idiots then, I’ll tell you that. And it always goes back to: “They’re ruining to the game, it’s violent, we all get it.” But you know what? When you lead with the crown of your head and go paralyze yourself, that’s not the way to do it. People like the violence of the game, the gladiator approach to it, but I still think that what you have to understand is that these are human beings playing the game. You have to play by the rules and the rules need to be changed now that we have more knowledge of head trauma and all the injuries that have been caused.
The NFL holds games in London each year, and it has been a successful initiative – this year there will be two games held there. There has been some talk of establishing a team in Europe. What do you think the timeline could be for something like that?
It would be purely speculation, I have no inside information. But I know a lot of people in the league office and I’ve talked to a lot of people and there is no question the NFL is now focused on global expansion. I think you’ll have teams in China or in Europe, so there can truly be a
There are incredibly talented athletes around the world. The US doesn’t have a monopoly on talent. A lot of athletes around the world have not been introduced to the game as you’re seeing here, but there is no reason why there couldn’t be a team in Warsaw, Kraków, London, Barcelona, Beijing, or Sri Lanka. It’s a good business as well. Sometimes we tend to forget that for the league to flourish and be successful it has to be a good business as well – and the NFL model is clearly very successful.