I waited to write anything about the NFL’s decision to fine James Harrison. The reason I waited was because I didn’t think that the league’s most recent actions made any sense.
The problem is that the NFL had a knee jerk reaction to an extraordinarily complex problem. This past Sunday, there were a number of hard hits. Some were illegal (the Brandon Merriweather hit), and some weren’t (the James Harrison hit and the Dunta Robinson hit).
The league fined James Harrison $75,000 for his hit, while Brandon Merriweather and Dunta Robinson were each fined $50,000 for theirs.
The league says that they issued the fines and are going to begin issuing suspensions in an effort to insure player safety. That sounds nice, but it’s total B.S.
What the NFL did was analogous to the government authorizing stimulus packages in an effort to fix the financial crisis in America. Sure, fines and suspensions might help. But like stimulus packages, they are a simplistic answer to a complex problem.
I don’t think that there is anyone that wouldn’t agree that player safety is important. Fans, players, and the NFL will all agree on that basic point. However, how to go about promoting player safety is a much more complex problem.
Football is a violent game. Yet it is partially the violence that makes the game appealing. Is there anyone who believes that the NFL would be the multi-billion dollar industry that it is if they played flag football or “touch” football? Of course not. Fans like the violence. They like the big hits. They like the bone-crushing tackles. That may say something bad about our society, but it is a fact nonetheless.
Throughout the history of the league, the NFL itself has even promoted the big hits. That’s what we’re all used to seeing on the evening news and on SportsCenter. Arm tackles don’t make the highlight reel, big hits do. The NFL even sells DVD’s with titles like “The NFL’s Greatest Hits”. I can assure you that there are no arm tackles on those videos.
So does the NFL really want to eliminate one of the most exciting parts of it’s sport? Personally, I don’t think that would be smart.
The NFL will argue that they’re only trying to eliminate helmet-to-helmet blows. A noble gesture, but one that is very impractical in actual practice. You see, NFL action happens too fast. When a wide receiver sees a hit coming, he lowers his head to protect himself. Running backs do the same thing. It is a reflex. And it happens in a fraction of a second. Yet, that reflex can change a legal hit into a helmet-to-helmet blow. The defensive player didn’t intend for it to happen that way. But it did nonetheless.
Any player will tell you that you can’t avoid those types of hits. They’re just going to happen. Sure, there are times when players launch themselves like missiles. But those are obvious, and easy to police. It’s the more ambiguous situations that I’m concerned about. Like James Harrison’s hits during the Cleveland game.
The NFL says that they are not changing the rules, but they’re merely going to begin enforcing rules that already exist. Okay, well then while they’re doing it, why don’t they enforce the rule that is supposed to keep offensive linemen from holding James Harrison on every play?
I’m all for player safety. And I’m all for enforcing rules. What I’m not for is unfair, arbitrary decisions in the middle of the season. The referee didn’t even throw a flag on Harrison’s hit. Yet he was fined $75,000.
If the league wants to make the game safer, then go over the rules during the off-season. Do what they did with the “Hines Ward rule”. Send videos to every team and tell them what is allowed and what is not allowed. Then train the officials to call it that way. I don’t think I’ve heard of a single team or player complaining about that new rule. Not even Hines Ward.
But this new ruling is much too arbitrary. I don’t get it. I just don’t think that the league has been clear on what constitutes an illegal hit. Helmet to helmet contact can’t be the only indicator. As I mentioned earlier, that is often accidental.
And what about when an offensive player makes helmet to helmet contact with a potential tackler? Why is the league not fining players for doing that? It’s helmet to helmet contact. Yet the NFL seems to be differentiating the two types.
Isn’t it just as dangerous for a 264 lb. running back like Brandon Jacobs to lower his helmet and steamroll a 195 lb. cornerback like DeAngelo Hall? Yet that type of play happens every single week in the NFL.
In my opinion, the NFL should do absolutely nothing right now. That’s right, nothing. They should wait until the end of the season, and make the rule changes for next season. That would allow them to get input from players, coaches, medical experts, and referees. Then they would have a much higher probability of getting the answer right.
I hope that the NFL is looking for the RIGHT answer, and not just AN answer. Right now, it looks like they’ve settled on the latter rather than the former.
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