Week 6 of the NFL season looked more like a MASH unit than the average weekend full of pigskin and touchdowns.
Players like Todd Heap, DeSean Jackson, Zac Follett and Josh Cribbs experienced concussions after being knocked into next week by some of the best defenders in the league.
Not only did such game-changing hits open the wallets of a few NFL stars, it opened the eyes of league higher-ups who have been pretty lax in dishing out huge fines or even suspensions based on actions on the field.
Today, Pittsburgh Steelers star defensive player James Harrison was fined $75,000 for his hits on both Cribbs and tight end Mohamed Massaquoi. On the Cribbs hit, it looked more as if Harrison was already in the act of making the tackle when Cribbs' body contorted. The Massaquoi hit—which is the play the Cleveland Browns are more upset about—looked as if Harrison had more intent to disable one or two body parts.
I'm not saying Harrison is trying to hurt anybody, but hits like that have been happening since football began. And that is the whole issue with the league, the mighty NFL, to enforce such stingy rules to areas of the game which they have banked on for generations.
Most people aren't even aware of players like Dick Butkus and Dick "Night Train" Lane. Include me in that list (although I have done plenty of research on such icons of the game). They were known for being vicious defenders who would knock the socks off offensive players—and the NFL celebrated such tenacity.
ESPN had a segment for years called "Jacked Up" in which Chris Berman and his cohorts would each showcase their favorite hit of the weekend. The guys would yell "Jacked up!" as if they were the ones being knocked unconscious.
Now, the network has done a complete 180 and has changed its stance—even discussing the topic on "Monday Night Countdown" yesterday, with only Cris Carter acknowledging that this is a professional football league where the greatest players in this country decide to earn a living and risk their bodies (and their lives).
The NFL is treading into waters which it has rarely been a part of, especially as players—like Harrison or the Redskins' Clinton Portis—have wondered why the NFL has suddenly changed its mind and decided to punish players over something that has been a staple of the league for decades.
There is definitely a mixed reaction from the public, but the allure of the game may be put into question. How would the NFL referees and league office even determine the grounds for a hit which has "intent" to do harm to an offensive player. Is the NFL going out of control with its precautionary measures for professional football players, starting with the quarterbacks?
I am all for the safety of athletes, whether it be a running back in the NFL or a player in the NHL, but sacrificing the goodness of such a brutal game will only hurt the league's image in the end.
People cheer when a player gets cranked; you can find thousands of videos praising such actions on YouTube. Viewers tune in to watch a semi-barbaric sport in action, with limbs flying around an elliptical leather object. The physicality attracts the masses.
Sometimes there isn't a price one can put on a product, but the NFL is in a quandary in terms of choosing what is the safe thing to do and what may potentially hurt the image of its glorified brand.