The NFL's biggest haymaker in the news this week is the increased discipline for helmet-to-helmet hits with the league suggesting that certain flagrant hits could lead to suspensions. Last week the league fined Brandon Meriweather, James Harrison and Dunta Robinson for a combined total of $175,000 in fines for helmet-to-helmet collisions (which includes the neck and not just the helmet) in their continuing effort to protect players by addressing massive hits in fear of losing players to nasty injuries, specifically head trauma.
The hilarious part in all of this is James Harrison, who claimed that the league is changing and therefore he's considering retirement. Head coach Mike Tomlin excused the attention-grabbing martyr from practice on Wednesday to think it over. My response to Harrison? You need the NFL, the NFL doesn't need you. One Steelers fan in conflicted while another, in a round about way, blames the players that were hit for not getting up saying "Harrison's problems began when the two players in question, Josh Cribbs and then Mohamed Massaquoi, failed to get up after the play."
Much like the conflicted Steelers fan, I can't point in one direction to say that is my view. On one hand, the hit from Robinson, by most experts and players, was deemed as a legal hit. That's goddamn football, son. Yet, Robinson was fined, drawing reaction at the new ceiling of consequence the NFL will hand out for a legal hit. On the other hand, because of that hit, Robinson and DeSean Jackson suffered concussions and are both likely out this week. As powerful as the collision was, it's actually fortunate that both players weren't severely hurt more. Protecting players from avoidable injuries by threatening massive fines and suspensions is a proactive step to at least hope that concussions, and serious head trauma, can be hopefully reduced.
Last year, Carson Palmer participated in a (sort of) roundtable with Peter King hosting other quarterbacks in Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers. At the time Palmer caused many people to take pause when he said, "The truth of the matter is ... somebody is going to die here in the NFL. It's going to happen.'' No one else at the roundtable disputed him.
On Wednesday, Palmer was asked about the NFL's proactive measure to increase consequences for helmet-to-helmet hits:
“Guys are getting so big, so fast, so explosive,” Palmer said. “The game’s so violent. Now that they’re cutting out the wedge deal on kickoff returns, those guys [are] coming free, and at some point somebody is going to die in football. And I hope it’s not anyone at this table, and I hope it doesn’t happen, obviously. Everyone talks about the good old days, when guys were tough and quarterbacks got crushed all the time, but back in the day, there weren't defensive ends that were like Mario Williams; 6-7, 300 pounds, 10 percent body fat, running a 4.7 40.
“Obviously they’re (the NFL) trying to put a stop to it. The best way to do that is to be harsh early, and they’re obviously being harsh with two $50,000 fines and a $75,000 fine. So they’re trying to take care of the problem early and kind of set a precedent for the rest of the season and seasons in the future.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a message to head coaches, who in turn were instructed to provide a video a message to their players. Goodell's message is as follows:
One of our highest priorities is player safety. We all know that football is a tough game that includes hard contact. But that carries with it an obligation to do all that we can to protect all players from unnecessary injury caused by dangerous techniques from those who play outside the rules.
The video shown today shows what kind of hits are against the rules, but also makes clear that you can play a hard, physical game within the rules.
Violations of the playing rules that unreasonably put the safety of another player in jeopardy have no place in the game, and that is especially true in the case of hits to the head and neck. Accordingly, from this point forward, you should be clear on the following points:
- Players are expected to play within the rules. Those who do not will face increased discipline,including suspensions, starting with the first offense.
- Coaches are expected to teach playing within the rules. Failure to do so will subject both the coach and the employing club to discipline.
- Game officials have been directed to emphasize protecting players from illegal and dangerous hits, and particularly from hits to the head and neck. In appropriate cases, they have the authority to eject players from a game.
Whether or not players agree with this, the point is that the players really don't have a choice. As we said before, players need the NFL. Not the other way around.