by: Scott LaPeer
Very recently, I heard someone say something amid the now emboldened topic of violence in professional football that simplified the sport's dilemma succinctly... "The NFL is not a sentence. People choose to play in the NFL."
I know it's almost too simplified, and almost too black-and-white, and perhaps, on some level, it's insensitive, but when you brass-tack it, is there anything surrounding this whole, current "helmet-to-helmet, devastating hit" dilemma you can point to that holds more reason-- more logic, when looking for any answer to this now-more-than-ever, troubling nature of the sport?
Since Day 1, football has been a dangerous, physical game where, in the most unfortunate of circumstances, participants can be subjected to life-altering impact on the playing surface. Substitute the word "hockey" for "football" in the previous sentence, and the exact same applies. It is a terrible, grievous reality of these sports. Very few people will ever argue that much. However, in an attempt to "soften" the impact and, dare I say image of its game, the NFL has stepped in immediately and irrationally.
After a Sunday that included an uncommonly high number of violent hits, the National Football League, effective retroactive to Sunday (isn't that funny?), is suspending and/or fining players for what they term "devastating hits". In the past, intentional helmet-to-helmet contact was punishable by the same terms, yet what this new "law" does goes far beyond the helmet-to-helmet issue. In essence, a player can be forced to miss games, and lose income for playing the game the way it has ALWAYS been played, they way they've likely ALWAYS been taught, and the way they -- to this day! -- are being coached, on the field and in the film room, to play.
For the sake of clarity, I'm not trying to scribe an opinion piece. I want to present arguments from both sides, because each merits consideration. I will disclose, however, I do not care for the sudden action of the NFL, and believe, for a bunch of "head-hunting goons" there's an abundance of intelligent thought being voiced by current and former players as to why this action is, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, downright hypocritical.
You be the judge.
ESPN analyst and former Denver Bronco Mark Schlereth's passion is more than evident when addressing the topic . Among other reasons, Schlereth cites the league's apparent hypocrisy in intentionally marketing its hair-raising violence to fans on 1 platform, yet striking out at it on another. Similarly, Cleveland Browns captain and middle linebacker Scott Fujita (who -- side note -- I've had numerous conversations with while covering him as a Saint, and is truly one of the league's more thoughtful and introspective players) made the following abbreviated remarks to Ohio's Cantonrep.com.
“It’s just funny,” Fujita said, “because they’re talking about banning these hits and suspending players. But these are the same hits they’re showing on every highlight, NFL Network … promoting the game. “It’s just like the celebration penalties. Same thing. They’re fining guys for that, flagging guys for that, but they show that all over the commercials advertising the game. It’s interesting. It’s kind of a paradox.”
Fujita's entire opinion can be seen here.
Meanwhile, respected and feared Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers is apparently considering immediate retirement after being hit with a $75,000 penalty for 2 hits he levied on Cleveland Browns players this past weekend. While his reaction, like the NFL's, is unquestionably rash, it's not difficult to understand. In essence, Harrison, and plenty of other players like him, are being stripped of an important piece of their pallets, while suddenly being told to continue painting, but to please make it a different picture than the ones they've built their livelihoods creating and perfecting.
Imagine a similar situation in other professional arenas, like a lawyer being told his method of cross- examination is too aggressive and will no longer be permissible in court, or a race car driver being penalized for recklessness. Shoot... could you imagine the backlash from baseball, if -- let's say an outbreak of hit batters were leading to serious, life-threatening injuries -- pitchers were no longer allowed to throw above 80 mph??? It would be an egregious amendment to a sacred game! And this, now, is how defensive players feel about what's being imposed on them. It's hard to blame them.
Even Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder (who, author's note: should be blatantly ignored 90% of the time he opens his mouth), raises an interesting opinion. Crowder told the Associated Press he smells a monetary motive in the new collision-related crackdown.
"They want to save the receivers and quarterbacks because they sell all the jerseys," Crowder said. "They don't give a damn at all about defensive players because we don't sell as many jerseys as them."
Again, very simple, but perhaps served with a grain of truth?
There is no doubt the impact and repercussions from intentional helmet-to-helmet contact is dangerous, and the very method of hitting a player that way has long been seen as unnecessary and, perhaps, even a bit dirty. Yet the underlying truth is not one player in the NFL is suddenly being blindsided by a new, more dangerous way of playing the game. True, the strongest, fastest, most ferocious players compete in the NFL, and the strength and speed of the game is increasingly present. However, not one of these players is forced to partake in this action, and subsequently, receive the more than handsome income they earn while doing so. The game of football hasn't changed overnight, yet its rules seemingly have.
Fair or foul?
Looks like the NFL has found yet another way to profit from its forthcoming 18-game schedule.