The NFL Takes A Hit … Thursday Cup O’Chiefs

It was back in the 1970s when Pittsburgh Steelers MLB Jack Lambert reacted to new protections for NFL quarterbacks by saying:

“Maybe they should put dresses on them.”

Understand this about Lambert – he was the epitome of old-school. Football in his mind was a game that was man-against-man, team-against-team, and the winner was the player or group that could dominate the other.

Lambert uttered those words some 30 to 35 years ago, but the discussion about physical contact continues in the NFL. It’s never really abated, going back to years before Lambert groused about the league protecting the quarterbacks. In those days they didn’t fine players for hits, no matter how vicious.

Now, there is another linebacker out of Kent State playing in Pittsburgh that likes to hit. James Harrison was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Undrafted coming out of college, he’s made his mark with sacks and some of the most aggressive contact the league has seen in recent years. This past Sunday, he hit Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi with a vicious shot and the NFL league office on Tuesday handed down a $75,000 fine against Harrison for what it said was an illegal hit.

Harrison did not practice with the Steelers on Wednesday. He spoke with Pittsburgh’s head coach Mike Tomlin and said he is considering his future in the game.

“How can I continue to play this game the way that I’ve been taught to play this game since I was 10 years old?” Harrison asked during an interview on Wednesday on Sirius Radio.  

“Now you’re telling me that everything that they’ve taught me from that time on, for the last 20-plus years, is not the way you’re supposed to play the game anymore. If that’s the case I can’t play by those rules. You’re handicapping me.”

(That’s Harrison on the right hitting QB Matt Cassel in 2008.)

Harrison is expected back on Thursday with the Steelers. He may be torn by the ruling against him and his future, but he also signed a six-year, $51.2 million contract last year. That’s a lot of money to walk away from. He was one of three players that were fined a total of $175,000 for three different hits during games played on Sunday. That is also a lot of money.

The league has also promised suspensions for players involved in these illegal hits, and it’s not involving just repeat offenders. Each incident will be reviewed on an individual basis.

“We are committed to safety at the highest level and so we will take all the criticism and all the backlash against those that say we are acting too aggressively in this regard,” said Ray Anderson, the NFL’s vice president of operations. He’s the man who hands down the fines to players in the NFL.

“We are not going to be apologetic. We are not going to be defensive about it.  We are going to protect our players and hopefully players at the lower levels by example.”

The hits and the reaction by the NFL created a great deal of conversation around the game, from the owner’s suite, to the locker room, to the media, to the corner pub where NFL fans gather to dissect everything about the league and the game.

That this discussion goes on is good. It’s right and it should never end. Finding ways to keep players safe should always be a priority of the league, owners, players, union, fans and the media. Yes, the media can’t run away from responsibility here as well.

Despite saying all that, I think what the NFL has done this week is hypocritical and reactionary. It’s a public relations move.

The stated desire of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his minions is the protection of the players. Yet, this is the same league office that is campaigning to add two more games to the league’s yearly schedule, exposing players to even more collisions, all for the sake of more money from the fans and television networks. It’s the same league that has told the players that when the current collective bargaining agreement ends this coming March, so will the health coverage for all NFL players and their families. These guys are talking out of both sides of their mouth and that hits at the credibility on this subject, which needs unquestioned intent.

The league has changed and enforced plenty of rules over the years that pushed the game in one direction or another. But what they’ve done and said they are going to do in reaction to these three hits from last Sunday’s is attempting to change one of the foundation elements of the game.

In a split second, they want players to change their reactions as they go about playing the game. They want players to think twice about tackling, and that’s going to cause many ramifications. Injuries will go up on other parts of the body like torsos, backs and legs. That split second of thought is sometimes all these great athletes need to escape from the defense.

Football is a collision sport. Always has been and there’s simply no way, or reason to change that. Is it sometimes brutal? Yes. Can players be hurt because of the contact? It happens every single day. And can players end up crippled, paralyzed or even killed because of the hitting that happens on the field? Yes, it’s happened. It also happens on the highways and byways of America every single day with car accidents.

As football fans, we want the collisions that happen on the field. It’s at the heart of the game. Remove the type of hitting, or create a situation here defensive players are reluctant to go after the opponent with the ball, and that will take away many of the plays that make fans stand up and cheer.

The type of hits that drew fines on Sunday have always been part of the game. Pro football was a brutal sport in its growth and development. Go all the way back to the play on college fields in the early 1900s that left so many young men injured and dead that then President Theodore Roosevelt considered banning the game. Eventually, his push led to rules and rules making bodies that helped clean up some of the nastier behavior in the game.

In pro football there were always rugged and hard-hitting players, sometimes prone to do things that weren’t necessarily safe. Hall of Fame defensive back Dick “Night Train” Lane who was famous for his necktie tackles. With a swing of his arm and a blow landed at the ball carrier’s throat, Lane would deck opponents all day. Through the years, other players had similar styles and caused injuries. Eventually, those types of moves were legislated out of the game. So was the head slap that defensive linemen were allowed to use on blockers.

Throughout the development of the game, it’s gotten safer to play, just like it’s safer to drive these days. Automobiles are made in different fashions, laws have been passed and roads are built in safer ways. But people are still injured and killed in car accidents on a daily basis. There is no way to eliminate the threat of injury from football.

“We’re certainly concerned,” said Anderson. “The fundamentally old way of wrapping up and tackling seems to have faded away. A lot of the increase is from hits to blow guys up. That has become a more popular way of doing it. We are concerned they are getting away from the fundamentals of tackling, and maybe it has been coached that way. We’re going to have to look into talking to our coaches.”

The league did that this week, sending out statements and a video that they asked each coach to present to his team. That happened on Wednesday with the Chiefs said head coach Todd Haley.

“We will continue to coach the things the way we’ve been coaching them which is to tackle within the rules of the game,” said Haley. “We’ve done a pretty good job to this point of doing that I think across the board in how we play.

“The rules have not changed this year; it’s just there has been an emphasis placed for obvious reasons of concern from the league. That’s something that we as coaches pay great attention to and make sure that our players understand. It’s about keeping our players safe and at the same time, it is a rough sport.”

Players are going to get hurt participating in the game of football. At the professional level, that is clearly understood. “We all know the next play can be our last,” said guard Brian Waters. “If you don’t know that, you shouldn’t be playing.”

Where does the media come in? It’s the glorification of the vicious collisions that we can see on a daily basis. It used to be that the only way we knew about big hits was to see them in the stadium or wait for the newest video from NFL Films. Now, they can be seen on the same day as they happened, and they are shown over and over again. TV networks do this because fans watch, they want to see the big ones.

But three vicious hits on a single Sunday does not a league-wide trend make. The NFL is overreacting, and in its “concern for player safety” they are trying to change the fundamental nature of the sport.

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t need that type of change.

NFL PERSONNEL FILE FOR WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 20

  • AFC – named Texans QB Matt Schaub offensive player of the week; Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons defensive player of the week; Dolphins K Dan Carpenter special teams player of the week.
  • NFC – named Eagles QB Kevin Kolb offensive player of the week; Rams DE Chris Long defensive player of the week; Vikings WR Percy Harvin special teams player of the week.
  • BROWNS – it appears that rookie Colt McCoy will start at quarterback against New Orleans this weekend; placed DE Robaire Smith (back) and RT Tony Pashos (ankle) on the injured-reserve list ending their seasons; signed G Paul McQuistan, last with the Jaguars and WR Yamon Figurs, most recently with the Ravens.
  • CHARGERS – signed K Kris Brown, formerly of the Texans; released QB J.T. O’Sullivan.
  • CHIEFS – signed DL Attiyah Ellison, last with the Jaguars.
  • COLTS – re-signed TE Gijon Robinson; P Patrick McAfee was suspended one game by the team for conduct detrimental to the club. McAfee was arrested early Wednesday for being drunk and disorderly. Police found McAfee swimming in an Indy canal at 5 a.m. It was 40 degrees outside.
  • EAGLES – said Kevin Kolb would start at quarterbacks against Tennessee.
  • FALCONS – TE Justin Peelle underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia and will be out four to six weeks.
  • JAGUARS – signed QB Patrick Ramsey; released LB Jacob Cutrera.
  • LIONS – signed LB Bobby Carpenter, most recently with the Dolphins; signed C Cody Wallace off the Jets practice squad; released DB Paul Pratt.
  • RAMS – signed DE Curtis Johnson off their practice squad.
  • SAINTS – placed CB Randall Gay on the injured-reserve list (concussion symptoms) ending his season; released LB Clint Ingram; signed CB Quincy Butler off their practice squad.

10 Responses to “The NFL Takes A Hit … Thursday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • October 21, 2010  - Butler says:

    AMEN


  • October 21, 2010  - Michael O says:

    “concern for player safety” Then why are they going to a 18 game schedule?


  • October 21, 2010  - el cid says:

    Got say, as an outsider looking in, the NFL can do what it wants to include putting dresses on players. It is the biggest form of entertainment in possibly the world. That said it is really all about money. This concern over safety has an odor to it. The NFL does not want players in wheel chairs going to court, years after production, asking for money for med needs or survival. These owners are just trying to protect themselves, and they should. How I do not know.


  • October 21, 2010  - Tracy says:

    One has to wonder just how much affect video games has on those playing the game.

    The current generation of NFL players–and back about fifteen years–has literally grown up watching and playing games that started out with such innocuous pastimes as PacMan and Donkey Kong but have grown to the chilling realism of Grand Theft Auto, some of the war games and the various Madden games. Violent contact and bloodshed are pretty much standard fare in a lot of these games.

    Reports of brain seizures among the ranks of those who play a lot of video games are plentiful. If that kind of physical reaction happens to those some would call geeks or nerds, how would members of the macho side–who have real life experience with on-field violence–react? Would their natural tendencies be so enhanced as to be uncontrollable? Would they be able to change without some kind of deprogramming or other therapy?

    It is little wonder that those who play linebacker or in the secondary openly question how they are to make the adjustment.

    Is this reaction by the NFL nabobs mere posturing for the public as the NFLPA and the owners get down to the short hairs of negotiation? They know that the violence is a huge part of the attraction of the NFL. They are trying to have it both ways and Bob is right when he points to the hypocritical posturing in this decision.

    Maybe, since the airwaves are awash with political advertising, it is nothing more than a signal that hypocrisy is an infectious disease.

    The commish certainly has opened a can of worms.


  • October 21, 2010  - RW says:

    I’m wondering what it would be like to see a NFL game ‘going Rugby’ with the players going at one another without pads or helmets? What’s the injury factor in rugby as opposed to the NFL?

    The league keeps sanitizing the game and one has to wonder on what square does the wheel land on? I think most of us can see both sides of the argument but I for one, fail to see a positive marketing of the game outcome down the road.


  • October 21, 2010  - Jimbo says:

    It’s a game these players love. Yeah the money is good, you become at least (locally) famous. Great service & seating in restaurants, clubs & local events. Not to mention the first class perks, free stuff, royalties & accolades. Then you get to push, manhandle, tackle, catch & intimidate other men on a weekly basis all the while releasing stress, anger & frustration & enjoying the hell out of it.

    All that can disappear in one play. It can also disappear driving to work, riding a motorcycle, swimming, crossing the wal-mart parking lot, riding a horse or simply playing catch with your kids in the back yard. Accidents & injuries occur every day.

    The game was designed for action & pain, whether you deliver it or receive it. The sport has grown into the true national passtime. (I’m not picking on you avid baseball fans) Allowing a few pointy heads making highly debateable decisions on what they judge a vicious or a malicious hit is asinine. To top it all off they manipulate the rules in the middle of the season.

    We all love football & probably not exactly for the same reasons. My passion for the game & the true entertainment it represents is what keeps my motor running & something fun to do in my spare time. Thank God no one is wanting to fine me for that.
    Go Chiefs.


  • October 21, 2010  - Dave says:

    I think the biggest overreaction is not from the NFL but from the fans. Guys, there will still be big hits. Why are we all panicking? When i see a db contort his body into a missile to knock a guy out, i dont think its cool at all. In fact it pisses me off a little bit. I don’t love the game when I see guys get carted off the field…but I do love the competition, strategy, and excitement that football has and will always bring. I know better than to drive recklessly, and I’m sure that the players do as well…no reason to intentionally hurt someone on or off the field.


  • October 22, 2010  - Gerardo says:

    Agree with RW, in boxing the gloves are for protection of the hands not the face of the opponent, that allows them to punch even harder, leave them unprotected and they have to think twice if trying to hurt someone else is going to hurt themseleves


  • October 23, 2010  - JB says:

    Well Geez so the NFL has determined that they will protect NFL players from themselves. It’s football and by design it is dangerous, violent and fabulous. It ain’t girls soccer and yet the boo hoo crowd is intent on taking the balls out of the game


  • October 23, 2010  - Nate says:

    This is more of Roger “goody” Godell. He looks like a marshmellow and acts like one. He should be commissioner of a girls soccer league. I am in total agreement with fines and suspensions for helment to helment hits or spearing with the tacklers helmet. This additional BS about fines for vicious hits is the most rediculous thing I have ever heard. Look for NFL scoring to start looking like arena league games!




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