NFL Ready To Suspend for Helmet-to-Helmet Hits: Is the League Ruining the Game?

Jeff ShullAnalyst IOctober 19, 2010

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 12:  Christopher Owens #21 of the Atlanta Falcons gets checked out by trainers while James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during the NFL season opener game on September 12, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The NFL this weekend was full of jaw-dropping hits that made anyone watching cringe and fear for the safety of those getting hit.

James Harrison was especially devastating, knocking out two players with bone crushing helmet-to-helmet hits. He claimed after the game that he tries to hurt people on the field and be intimidating, which is why he is such a successful player on defense.

If you take that away from him by threatening suspension, are the league officials ruining the game by giving more and more power to the offenses?

The NFL is a full-contact sport; the players know that going in. I'm all for protecting guys from getting paralyzed, but those things can happen and players know that going in.

On the other hand, helmet to helmet should be discouraged as much as possible, and it is clear that fines don't fix the problem.

In the following article, I'll broach both sides of the opinion on this argument, then give my opinion on which side of the argument I stand.


Suspensions Are Good for the Game

The NFL came out and said they are coming up with a policy that will suspend players for "devastating hits" and the policy is to be announced on Wednesday.

This is good for the NFL in a sense that the players don't really respond to these $5,000-10,000 fines. When you threaten competitive, hungry defensive players with the possibility of suspension, they might start leading with their shoulder more often rather than their helmet.

During the halftime show of Sunday Night Football on NBC, former Patriot and known big hitter Rodney Harrison told Tony Dungy and Dan Patrick that he used to set aside $50,000 each year just so he could pay for the fines he knew he was going to receive to keep his reputation as a dirty player.

The only time he said he was affected was when he was suspended because he felt like he let his teammates down and having to watch the game his missed was horrible for him.

The other thing that can be mentioned when debating this issue is that the players are taught from a young age not to tackle with their helmet or their head down. When I learned how to tackle, I learned to go in head first but have the head on either side of the player and drive through them with your shoulders and use your legs as leverage to get them down.

Some, or all, of the hits we witnessed this weekend were seemingly unnecessary and could have been avoided by regular form tackles.


Suspensions ruin the game we have come to love

Not only do suspensions have the chance to ruin the game that we all have come to love, with big defensive plays and huge hits, but they again give more power to the offense that the current NFL regime seems to be catering to.

It has become painfully obvious that the NFL under Roger Goodell is doing their best to protect offensive players, and the rule changes even before Goodell took over took power away from the defense.

They made it so much easier for receivers to get open looks by not allowing contact down the field by corners, and all the rules protecting the QB can get to the players' heads, especially the Brady rule.

Now this? Defensive players flying around the gridiron at full speed trying to chase guys running 4.3 fourty-yard dash times have to worry about where their helmet hits? That is close to impossible.

What is ironic about the whole thing is that the NFL is very close to extending the regular season by two games, prompting players to be worried for their health over a much longer season.

More regular season games = more chances for devastating injuries.

Anyone who grew up loving the NFL loves the big hits and the defensive struggles. You may not enjoy it when your team is not involved, but when your team is say, the Steelers, you love playing the Ravens because you know both defenses are going to be delivering punishing hits and the game is going to come down to the wire.

Taking any advantage the defense has, like scaring receivers coming across the middle of the field, is gone when you threaten with suspensions and guys are doing their best to stay on the field.


My Take: Gotta Love the Big Hits!

My stance on the subject is the NFL shouldn't take away any more from the defense, nor should they discourage the big hits we have come to love.

If they start punishing for helmet to helmet contact, how long is it before they take away the big hit altogether by making it a penalty?

I can see it now. I'm watching a game in 2021 and the Giants (my team) get flagged for a "devastating hit" on a player with the ball.

If the NFL goes down this path, they will find that it is steep and slippery.

However, I am OK with them cracking down on the hits that are suffered by defenseless receivers with no chance to brace for contact, much like the hit on DeSean Jackson.

On Mike and Mike in the Morning, NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson clarified what exactly the league will be looking in to as which hits deserve suspensions.

"We are trying to get our players to not initiate contact on defenseless players including defenseless receivers to the head or neck area with the forearm the shoulder or the helmet. We're trying to get that out of the game," Anderson said Tuesday. "We're trying to protect everybody in defenseless positions from head and neck injuries."

He placed most of the blame on the players for the hits on defenseless receivers this weekend, and says those defensive players should know the rules. The NFL isn't changing any rules, just getting more strict and enforcing higher levels of punishment.


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