NFL Takes Hard-Hitting Stance On Helmet Hits
After a weekend of violent helmet-on-helmet hits, the NFL fined three players and announced that any who engage in “headhunting” will be subjected to suspensions going forward.
The medley of aggressive tackles presented a golden opportunity for the league, which has been looking for a hands-on way to appear proactive on the issue of player safety.
NFL executive vice president Ray Anderson says he expects there won’t be much of a change to actual play since the rule book remains the same. From ESPN.com:
NFL Rule on Defenseless Receivers
Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (unnecessary roughness) in the NFL rulebook as it pertains to wide receivers: h) If a receiver has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself, a defensive player is prohibited from launching (springing forward and upward) into him in a way that causes the defensive player's helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm to forcibly strike the receiver's head or neck area -- even if the initial contact of the defender's helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm is lower than the receiver's neck.
Anderson and other high ups in the league hope the threat of suspension will deter athletes who like to make these hits without regard for possible injuries to the receivers.
It’s also a calculated PR move. Recent research on the brains of former NFL athletes showed the debilitating effects that concussions (and even repeated tough tackles) can have. The league has come under fire since the research was published.
But at least one athlete who was fined this week, James Harrison of the Steelers, believes he wasn’t doing anything other than playing the game of football.
Harrison, who has been docked for illegal hits in the past, said via his agent he feels he will have to relearn the game of football in order to accommodate this new standard. As a result, the agent said, Harrison is now seriously considering retirement.
It might seem an extreme response to a $75,000 fine for a man who rakes in millions a year, but Harrison makes a valid point. Following his hit on the Browns’ Mohamed Massaquoi Sunday, there wasn’t even a flag thrown. It begs the question of how, exactly, the new suspensions will be enforced. What parameters will referees use to distinguish the malicious hits from those that are a necessary and natural part of the game?
Some other critics of the new punishment feel the level of play in the NFL could be compromised.
Indeed, it opens the door for future changes and the review of other kinds of plays. But the NFL is hardly going “soft." Nor is it in danger of becoming a flag football league. Rightly, it’s desperate to prevent an incident like the one that happened at Rutgers this weekend, when junior defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down.
We’ll wait to see whether questionable suspensions are handed down to make the NFL look serious.
In the meantime, player safety remains an ongoing problem that may never be truly solved.
To reach writer Kate Rooney, click here.
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