Matthew Slater isn't happy with the NFL. The New England Patriots special teamer took aim at the league for passing a new rule last week that allows fair catches on kickoff returns beginning in the 2023 season.
It was reported that the league pushed for the rule change, which was passed at the owners meeting last week, due to health and safety concerns. Slater isn't buying it.
“I just don't believe this is truly in the name of player health and safety. What I do believe is, ‘We [the NFL] want to portray ourselves a certain way to the public that says we care about the players,'” Slater said following the Patriots' organized team activities on Wednesday. “But I can give you a long list of examples where the league and powers that be do not act in the best interest of the players.”
Slater strongly disagreed with new touchback rule. Said he “truly doesn’t believe it’s in the name of player health and safety.”
— Conor Roche (@ConorRoche27) May 31, 2023
Slater proceeded to give specific examples of things he views as harmful to players that the NFL hasn't fixed, citing “Thursday Night Football's” existence and the continued use of turf fields over grass as issues that are harmful to player health and safety.
Slater also discussed how retired players have to fight for health care following retirement and have a tough path to having to prove their disability claims, recalling some of the issues teammates of his father, Pro Football Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, have had over the years.
“I understand 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,” Slater added. “If we're really concerned with player safety and health, let's talk about some of the real issues. Let's not talk about a play, when [a high percentage of the time] the ball is kicked off, it's injury-free.”
Slater has pretty much only played on special teams over the first 15 years of his career. He's done well doing so, earning 10 Pro Bowl nods as some have wondered if he'd be one of the few special teamers to be named a Hall of Famer.
Matthew Slater on new kickoff rule: "I'm just not convinced that our league is always going to do what's in the best interest of our players… I don't believe that this is truly in the name of player health and safety" pic.twitter.com/SVjCWkSDqN
— NBC Sports Boston's Patriots Coverage (@NBCSPatriots) May 31, 2023
At 37, Slater's far closer to the end of his career than the start of it. But he still can't help but wonder what it would've meant to his career if the rule was put into place earlier or how it could affect other special teamers.
“For a player like myself, I wouldn't have had a career most likely [without] this play,” he said. “I [also] understand the players that came before me — the [Steve] Taskers, the [Bill] Bateses … — who were able to establish themselves and have careers in this league because of the kicking game.”