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New England Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater has been on the field for quite a few kickoffs, as he enters his 16th year in the NFL, and feels strongly about recent changes made to his area of the game. Last week, a league rule was changed to allow fair catches on kickoffs for the upcoming season. A fair catch on a kickoff anywhere inside a team's own 25-yard line will result in a touchback with the ball placed at the 25.

The league says the goal of the change is to increase player health and safety, attempting to lessen the number of collisions that occur on kickoffs. Slater, however, is not buying into the NFL's reasoning, saying this area is not the top cause for concussions and therefore should not be the focus of change.

"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 (via ESPN). 

Slater pointed out there are other areas the league could improve safety and health. He mentioned "Thursday Night Football," synthetic turf over natural grass and health care and disability benefits as examples.

"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 said. "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 said. "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 is a 10-time Pro Bowler and known as one of the best special team players in the league right now and up there will all-timers. He acknowledged that some people may not realize the gravity of the rule change.

The 37-year-old said he knows "that people will look at this and say, 'What's the big deal?'"

"For a player like myself, I wouldn't have had a career most likely [without] this play," Slater 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."

Slater is far from the only person to criticize the rule change. Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and Baltimore Ravens John Harbaugh were both outspoken against it, with the defending Super Bowl champion coach asking, "Where does it stop?"

The Patriots were one of the teams to vote against the rule change.

Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the disparity across the NFL, saying not everyone will agree on everything.

"We have different viewpoints in the league. This is not the first time," Goodell said. "The data is very clear about the higher rate of injury on that play. We've been talking about it for several years. We have not made a lot of progress on this play. There will be more work to be done about how we continue to evolve going forward: Can we continue to keep this play in an exciting way, but more importantly, a safe way?"

The Patriots captain believes the NFL is using the statistics as an excuse to get rid of the play.

"We all know data can be skewed and projected in any way you want to slice it up," Slater said. "It's clear to me that they're making an effort to eradicate this play."