It's been the talk of the NFL for weeks now, the issue of concussions.
Then yesterday, there was a huge increase in helmet-to-helmet hits, sending analysts, commentators and fans into a serious debate on penalties for hits to the head.
There were a lot of hits during yesterday's game that provided the debate a lot of examples to discuss.
One of the early hits was Falcons corner Dunta Robinson hammering the Eagles WR DeSean Jackson. Jackson went up for a catch, and had just come down when Robinson caught him in the upper chest and bottom of the helmet.
Now, many are stating that this was the most controversial hit yesterday, but I'm not sure if personally I agree. It looked as though Robinson was aiming to hit Jackson in the chest, and in watching the video I think that is where for the most part he hit him, just the top of his helmet caught Jackson's facemask.
Of course, Jackson was defenseless because he was touching down after going up for a catch, which has to make you wonder if Robinson should have been hitting that high in the first place.
On to another example from yesterday, this one courtesy the Steelers James Harrison. Well, there were two actually. First is his hit on Joshua Cribbs.
As Cribbs was turning the corner to cup upfield, he got wrapped up low, and as he was going down Harrison led with his helmet and absolutely blindsided Cribs in the head. This is definitely one of the worst hits of the season. Harrison leads solely with his helmet, as can be seen by his hands being at his side, and clocks Cribbs in the helmet, leaving him motionless on the field for moments.
Now, in Harrison's defense, Cribbs went down at the exact moment that Harrison came across, but the question still must be asked why Harrison is leading with his head on a player that's already wrapped up in the first place.
On to the second Harrison hit from yesterday, which was on Mohamed Massaquoi. Massaquoi was looking back to catch a short pass, and as soon as he turned around was hit by a head-leading Harrison. Massaquoi walked off the field under his own power, but it was a scary hit to see, as Harrison appeared to launch himself off gain more momentum, connecting his helmet with Massaquoi's.
Then, in the Giants and Lions game, Zack Follett was carried off the field on a stretcher following a hit to the helmet on a kick return.
I'm not here to argue which hit was worst, or to call out the players that were involved in these incidents. I'm here to look at the issue of helmet-to-helmet contact in general.
Penalties for these kinds of hits on defenseless players need to be more serious, and more universally understood by referees so that they can call in-game penalties consistently, as it is tough for them to determine just when players are defenseless.
I would even argue to make helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless players an ejectionable offense, topped off with a suspension and a fine.
I would always contemplate introducing penalties for helmet-to-helmet hits, even if players are not "defenseless". I wouldn't say that these penalties need to be as strict, but perhaps a 10 or 15-yard penalty for leading with your head into another player's helmet would cause players to think before blindly leading with their helmet.
I know that there will be criticism of these ideas, and some might argue that they are too extreme, but I think that the NFL really needs to tighten up these rules. This offseason, the NFL talked about reducing the risk of concussions, which is what much of their helmet-to-helmet talk focused on, but it's about much more than that.
Many fans, and indeed analysts, such as Jim Rome on today's show, are stating the actual concern of a player dying on the field following one of these hits.
Some fans will argue that, yes of course, football is a contact sport, and that rules like this are "wussifying" the sport. However, I disagree. Enforcing laws that force players to hit a guy in the chest instead of the head by no means takes away from the sport. Watching a guy get jacked up as he gets hit in the chest is much more satisfying than seeing a player get clocked in the head.
Extreme measures may be necessary, however, when players may not understand the possible consequences of these "head-hunting" hits, as evidenced by an interview Harrison had with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"I don't want to see anyone injured, but I'm not opposed to hurting anyone," Harrison said. "You hate to see anyone down like that, but then you realize he just went to sleep for a little bit and he came out of it and he's going to be OK."
I think that these defensive players would be much happier to change their ways of where they are hitting, or suffer penalties afterwards, than to continue down the path they are now and perhaps having to live with the guilt of ending a career, paralyzing, or even killing another player, because right now we are on a path fast-tracked to a serious, serious injury or worse.
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