Where were you when the head-on collision that changed American football forever occurred?
Most people remember the circumstances around events that affected their lives—good or bad.
My parents remember what they were doing when President John F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King II were assassinated.
I remember where I was when Bill Clinton announced that he had not had relations with Monica Lewinsky. I do not recall where I was when he changed his story.
Who can forget what they were doing when they learned that President Obama had brought change to America?
Those events are perhaps more memorable than sporting history, but sports as entertainment in tragic times is inseparable with Americana.
We learned that fact most recently in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.
It is no surprise that some NFL fans remember where they were when Jack Tatum paralyzed Darryl Stingley in a 1978 preseason game.
Some of my readers were not born yet. Others recall it like it was last Sunday.
As a youth, my brothers played sand lot football with the other boys from the neighborhood almost every Sunday after church.
They would all meet at a spacious grassy knoll and choose teams. Sometimes they would play tackle football rules, and other times they played flag.
Growing up in the shadows of one of the best high school football programs in the state allowed me to see some of the best athletes in the country.
The worst injury that I have seen in a pick-up football game was a swollen eye.
As I grew old enough to play, I asked my mother if I could join a team. The answer was an immediate and emphatic negative.
She was too worried about me sustaining a life-threatening injury such as a broken neck.
I thought her line of reasoning was insane, but I stuck to baseball and basketball. In mama’s defense, her decision turned out to be a good one.
Defender of NFL policy regarding devastating hits, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced his decision to ban “devastating hits and head shots” under threat of suspension.
Some pundits argue that by taking away the whole concept that defense was founded on; NFL defenders will be at a huge disadvantage. That Goodell’s new policy compromises game integrity. That impartial enforcement of the new rule is impossible.
Some say that since players are taught to hit this way in pee wee on up, that players cannot adjust when they make it to the NFL.
I applaud Goodell, whom I call the “Concussion Commissioner,” for his work on improving concussion care-taking in the league.
Unless you have been around a young man who is confined to a wheelchair and has lost the use of his limbs due to a vicious hit, then you cannot fathom the impact it has on families.
From having to now be the caretaker of the former bread winner, to taking care of yourself and the children, life can be extremely challenging and taxing.
Nobody wants to see someone get paralyzed or die on the field, especially in a meaningless preseason game like what happened in 1978.
Darryl Floyd Stingley grew up on the West Side of Chicago. A territory associated with the Vice Lords street gang and several upstart community organizations.
An All-American high school running back, Purdue gave him a scholarship and made him a wide receiver. He made all All-Big 10, and the New England Patriots drafted him in 1973.
A first-round pick, he was a versatile player.
I could argue that he was the blueprint for Jerry Rice.
Stingley was skilled at rushing the ball from the wide receiver position, and he was excellent at kickoff and punt returns.
In 1978, he was on the verge of becoming the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL.
Then it happened.
Jack Tatum was known as a vicious hitter, but within the confines of NFL rules. His hit on Stingley compressed Darryl’s spinal cord and crushed his fourth and fifth vertebrae.
He was paralyzed and could not sign the contract that would have allowed him to take care of his family for a long time.
It was due to be signed after the game in Oakland.
Then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle mulled over rules after Tatum-Stingley.
Since 2007, a player cannot “launch themselves” at any player who leaves the ground.
It was argued that defenders were ever being hampered from jarring the ball loose from receivers.
Dangerous hits increased and players simply paid fines with the extra contract money they got from team owners for being super hitters in a hard-hitting league.
Fortunately nobody was made a paraplegic before Goodell’s newest policy.
He is a man who seems to care more about humanity than NFL money.
Will suspensions make players think twice? I believe they already are.
Former NFL players and coaches believe it will.
It is absolutely true that way too many concussions have been happening this season.
The bigger question is whether or not concussions are happening at the same rate they always have, but are now being focused on more.
Playoff aspirations and win-loss records may be affected, but lives will be saved.
Pittsburgh Steelers LB James Harrison admitted that he has intent to hurt someone, but not injure them, after he laid out Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi last Sunday.
He was lucky he was not fined for the comments, if you ask me.
The last thing the NFL wants is another Darryl Stingley incident. Not so much because of the violence involved, but because of the eternal story.
Tatum and Stingley never really came to a closure, but Stingley said he forgave Tatum.
A former Tatum teammate with the Oakland Raiders, Gene Upshaw made sure disabled players were compensated by the NFL through the Player’s Association.
Stingley died in 2007 at age 55 from heart disease, pneumonia and other complications due to his quadriplegia.
Will the highlights of the hits be banned? Will posters be pulled off the shelves? Will slant routes over the middle be outlawed as Tatum suggested? What about Jack’s suggestion of banning linebacker blitzes to protect quarterbacks?
Goodell has to address these issues.
One thing is for sure: Bone-jarring and concussion causing hits are here to stay. I say that with so much confidence because ferocious hits have always been part of the American football.
Night Train Lane, Dick Butkus, Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater, John Lynch, Ray Lewis all had reputations as deranged hitters who deserved to be compensated for their ability.
ESPN’s Tom Jackson had the “jacked up” series last season where he showed the hardest hits from around the NFL in his highlight package.
Jackson admitted to launching himself with intent to injure a time or two.
YouTube is filled with “hardest hit ever” reels.
Players are bigger, stronger, faster and more educated on angles than ever before.
If Goodell does not act soon to correct the situation, then NFL fans will continue to sell out every game and to watch NFL Network for highlights of the hits and news on the injured players.
I believe that intentional headhunting has been handed a defeat, and that is good for football.
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