Counterpoint: Pro Bowl in need of more than minor changes

In the world of sports, there is nothing quite like watching each sport’s greatest athletes join together and participate in all-star competitions. While the intensity of these games is almost always decreased, it’s almost always fun to see players get together and have fun.

Key word: almost.

The Pro Bowl, the name of the NFL’s all-star game since 1951, is a complete joke. In fact, it’s a big enough joke that the league — which has already sold television rights to the game through 2022 — considered suspending the 2013 game after the horrendously poor quality of last year’s contest.

This would have been a major step in the right direction for the league, but officials decided to go against their better judgment and allow the 2013 competition to happen.

A firmer stance from the league, if only to send a message to its players, would have been a breath of fresh air. The game has become a mockery of itself. Players are more excited to see who can come up with the most ridiculous stunt than actually having the honor of being selected as one of the NFL’s elite talents.

I’m not against all-star games, and I certainly believe the game’s best players deserve recognition for their on-field accolades. I am, however, against watching Drew Brees punt a ball straight into the backs of his offensive line after taking a snap, and offensive and defensive linemen performing choreographed position changes.

Supporters of the Pro Bowl have stated the game only needs a few minor changes to rid itself of the “no effort, all jokes” mantra the game has held in recent memory.

The Pro Bowl needs more than just a few minor tweaks in order to be considered a legitimate all-star game.

First, the league needs to increase the qualifications for opting out of the game. The Pro Bowl is a voluntary event, and while a vacation from the hard hits suffered during the NFL’s brutal 16-week regular season schedule is nice, the fans — you know, the whole reason all-star games exist — should be able to watch all of their favorite players, not just the ones who decided they felt like playing.

A major reason athletes opt out is fear of sustaining a potentially career-ending injury. The risk of injury is a very real one, and it’s hard to justify forcing players who are nursing nagging injuries to play in a game that has no real consequence. However, it’s apparent when someone is actually banged up as opposed to a mysterious case of “back spasms.”

While the NBA and MLB all-star weekends also feature athletes playing lackadaisical defense, making questionable offensive decisions, and exchanging jokes with friends from around the league, there is more of a cohesive feel than any Pro Bowl I’ve watched over the past five years.

The list of changes that need to be made to the Pro Bowl is long, and if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and company can’t find a way to make them, maybe the NFL truly is better off without an all-star game after all.

Reach the columnist at tpaxton@asu.edu