James Harrison and The NFL's Suspension Rule: A Devastating Hit in Its Own Right

Josh DelpContributor IOctober 20, 2010

As you may have heard, James Harrison, Dunta Robinson and Brandon Meriweather were all fined big chunks of change following their “illegal” hits in Sunday’s games. Harrison was docked $75,000 for two of his hits, whereas Robinson and Meriweather are down $50K. This came without warning after the league vowed to crack down on illegal hits to the head. This "protection policy" has been a focus throughout the season. It started with concern for the quarterbacks and it has now moved to “defenseless” receivers.

I read this excerpt from an ESPN article and it tickled me. “Football operations chief Ray Anderson indicated the suspensions could start immediately. That is, involving play from last weekend's games. However, Aiello (NFL spokesman) said the league wanted to give teams fair warning and would send a memo Wednesday, outlining the changes.” Fair warning? Yea, right. So you dock players’ pay equivalent to one game check (even more for some) for making legal hits that were not penalized BEFORE you announced the new crackdown? There seems to be a disconnect going on here.

What’s more, the NFL was selling photos of James Harrison’s hit on Mohamed Massaquoi. "We regret the mistake," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "The photos will be taken down and we will ensure that no photos of illegal plays will be available again.” Wait, so you threaten suspensions for illegal hits, you fine the players outrageous amounts of money, then you post photos on the NFL’s website of the “illegal” hit? Hypocrisy thy name is…

I can’t tell you how absolutely bogus and insulting to the game this decision has become. I understand the concern for player’s safety. I understand the NFL wants to limit concussions and blows to the head. But what we are witnessing now is a blatant disregard of a quintessential aspect of the game of football, and a resultant overreaction that will impact the game in the short and long run. They are abandoning an aspect of the game that contributes to the overall appeal of football.

Harrison, along with Robinson, plans to appeal his fine. Harrison is going to have a conversation with his coach Mike Tomlin on what will be acceptable to play by NFL rules. "I've talked to James, and he's very upset," Harrison’s agent Bill Parise said. "He's quite confused about how to play football."

The only malicious hit that took place on Sunday was Brandon Meriweather’s hit on Todd Heap. In the play, Meriweather thrust his helmet forward while another Patriot defender was in the process of wrapping him up. Everything else was a legal. Harrison’s hits are nothing more than him playing the same way he always has. Robinson’s hit was one with tremendous impact, but was legal. He led with his shoulder and collided in part with a helmet as well. When one is tackling, the defender cannot account for where the offensive player’s head will be. Running backs often use their helmet as a battering ram as he moves up field. Even if you lead with your shoulder, heads are bound to collide.

Here’s another thing, none of these hits were penalized. What does that tell you?

Harrison and Ray Lewis are two of the nastiest and hard-nosed defenders in the league. Now, with this new rule, players will have to exercise caution when tackling a person. In the case of these two linebackers who are two of the “big hit” guys, they will have to drastically alter their playing style for fear of being fined and suspended.

Why change now? Just because we saw a couple of guys get concussions last week? It’s football! Players understand the risk involved in the sport. Otherwise, they wouldn’t play the game. Injuries happen in sports, especially with football.

Where does it end? Where is the line? What will constitute a devastating or egregious hit, or whatever they are calling it? How much money do you plan on taking away from players? Does the NFL realize the enormity of this decision? How will they discern what is devastating and what is a regular tackle? Will we ever see a big hit again in the NFL?

Let me pose another question: If the NFL is trying to limit injuries, why are they on the brink of expanding the regular season to 18 games? Wouldn’t that increase the probability for injuries? But, I forgot one thing: Money, the driving factor behind the NFL's most recent decisions. More games = more money. More games also equals more injuries. Maybe this new ruling is the NFL’s way of trying to curb injuries while simultaneously maximizing profit with the schedule expansion. The backlash might outweigh the optimism though. The NFL needs to tread carefully on this ruling.  

All I ask as a fan of the game is to stop sending mixed signals and don’t do anything too stupid to jeopardize the enjoyment factor of the sport. You have already taken away celebrations, so please don’t take away or limit the effectiveness of a defense that results in an apprehensive approach to tackling. The game is physical. By implementing this strict standard, all you are doing is hindering your product, bottom line.

Check out some of my other blogs on the Sports Fan Blog Network. Thanks for reading.