By the letter of the law, James Harrison was in violation of newly revised rules relating to helmet-to-helmet hits on receivers when he hit Browns' receiver, Mohamed Massaquoi. Harrison received a $75,000 fine for his efforts.
His post-game comments did not help him prevent a fine when he stated, "I don't want to injure anybody. There's a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people."
While many athletes from football and other contact sports understand the meaning behind those words, they were poorly though out and reflected negatively on the NFL and its players.
By rule, a defender is not allowed to forcibly hit a "defenseless player’s head, neck, or face with the helmet or facemask, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him."
A defenseless player is defined as "(i) a player in the act of or just after throwing a pass; (ii) a receiver catching or attempting to catch a pass; (iii) a runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped; (iv) a kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air; and (v) a player on the ground at the end of a play."
However, when does a receiver turn from a player in a "defenseless posture" back to a ball carrier? Massaquoi got his hands on the ball and began to turn upfield. As he turned upfield, he saw Harrison closing in and lowered his pad level in an attempt to brace for impact.
Massaquoi had not secured a completion prior to Harrison putting a hit on him, so by the verbiage of the rules he was a defenseless player. However, he appeared to make an attempt to protect himself. By the virtue of changing his pad level, his head was in the path of Harrison's helmet.
The way the rule is written seems to require Harrison to anticipate Massaquoi's change in pad level. It also seems to require a defender to allow a receiver to complete the catch before he can be hit.
A possible effect of this rule will be more knee injuries to defenseless players. There is nothing on the books that prohibits a hit to the knees of a defenseless receiver. Also, as defenders try to lower their pad level even further, they may sustain neck an spinal injuries if they lower their head too far.
Harrison's hit on Massaquoi should have drawn a flag, but shouldn't be a fineable offense. Fines should be reserved for players, like New England's Brandon Meriweather, that launch themselves at a player's head without making any attempt to make a play or break up a pass. Fines should only be levied in the most egregious offenses, not on borderline plays.
The NFL is attempting to prevent concussions in the wake of evidence of brain damage in former players. However, the rules relating to helmet-to-helmet contact may leave players open to sustain other types of injuries.
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