If there is anything this past weekend has taught us, it's that the NFL can be downright scary at times. As fans, we love hard hits, which is why ESPN even devoted a special segment to us titled "Jacked Up!" But once the initial joy of seeing Newton's Third Law of Motion in action wears off, we then say to ourselves, "I hope he's okay."
Most of the time, the player is shaken but fine, and we go back to wanting the same thing to happen on the next play. However, recently it seems like more and more players are not fine, and the league has finally decided to do something about it.
In case you've been living under a rock or in the middle of the woods like Brock Lesnar, the airwaves have been inundated with opinions and arguments regarding the NFL's reaction to this weekend's slaughter-fest. Todd Heap, Joshua Cribbs, Mohamed Massaquoi, DeSean Jackson and Dunta Robinson were all involved in violent collisions Sunday, with the latter four suffering mild to severe concussions.
The NFL has made it clear they will not tolerate this type of play any longer. You want quotes? Google it. I won't waste your time here with the back-and-forth between the league, its players and various coaches and analysts. The bottom line is the NFL is now completely against violent hits to the shoulder, head and neck regions.
Here's where it gets interesting. Photos of James Harrison's hit on Massaquoi and Brandon Meriweather's hit on Todd Heap can be (or at least could be) purchased from the NFL photo store. So let me get this straight, the NFL is selling the same hits they are against? Oops.
But that's not all. Everybody seems to be blaming the players, claiming they play dirty or don't know how to tackle properly. In some instances (Meriweather/Heap), this is true, and the offender should be fined and suspended accordingly. In other cases (Harrison/Cribbs, Harrison/Massquoi, Robinson/Jackson), the hits were neither illegal nor malicious; they were simply the result of Newton's aforementioned Third Law of Motion.
The fact that James Harrison was fined $75,000 for a hit that wasn't even flagged, while Meriweather (the real violent offender) was docked only $50,000, is a joke. And now the league's former Defensive Player of the Year is mulling retirement. This is a real win-win.
Let me add some freshness to the debate by bringing up something nobody else has done, though. Rather than look at how the players are tackling, why not look at the equipment with which they are tackling? That's right, I'm blaming the NFL equipment. Before you hit the "back" button in your browser, hear me out.
Let's go back in time and compare two players from a couple decades ago with two of the league's scapegoats in their most recent scandal. Let's compare Ronnie Lott and Mike Singletary with Dunta Robinson and James Harrison. Since we seem to be stuck on the fact that nobody used to hit helmet-to-helmet back in the day, let's look and see why that was.
The two photos included in this article show the selected players side by side.
See the glaring difference? Shoulder pads are simply not what they used to be. In previous decades, players had a much larger target area, meaning it was less likely they would hit helmet-to-helmet. Today, with so little room for error, it is nearly impossible for two players to collide without having their helmets do the same.
Some may argue if you hit the torso, the problem will go away. However, two things are very likely to happen, causing the outcome to remain unchanged. First, the receiver may change pad level in order to avoid such a hit. If the receiver changes levels right before the collision, there is simply nothing the defender can do to avoid hitting the receiver's helmet. Secondly, due to the force of these collisions, physics will lead the defender up under the chin of the offensive player, at almost no fault of the tackler.
The bottom line is you cannot avoid what is sometimes unavoidable, given the circumstances.
The NFL sacrificed those big, ugly pads for more speed and mobility, but in return they left their players open to more violent injury. That's right, the NFL is to blame. In my opinion, they are no better than the MLB, who sat around and let steroids take over the game until it was too late.
If the NFL insists on penalizing these clean-but-violent hits, the game and the way it is played will change. Defensive players will be hesitant to hit another player, and the result will be more catches, more broken tackles, more touchdowns. Goodbye, defense.
Rather than changing the way the game is played fundamentally, change the equipment. These almost non-existent pads are the real culprits, and until we provide the players with more football-friendly equipment, the problem will remain.