In the wake of this past weekend's hits by James Harrison, Dunta Robinson and Brandon Meriweather, the NFL levied a set of major fines totaling $175,000 for the three players over what were termed "dangerous and flagrant hits."
It should be noted that the Harrison hits did not even draw penalties during the game.
Robinson's hit has been universally supported by former players as a case where he led with his shoulder, constituting a legal hit.
The Meriweather hit is not really part of this discussion, as it drew a flag in the game and was clearly a case of a player leaving his feet and using his body as a missile to spear Todd Heap of the Baltimore Ravens. He's apologized, for what it's worth—it was a dirty hit, case closed.
There have already been plenty of articles posted up to today that analyse these hits and the reactions to them, so rather than cover trampled ground, I still think that it is worth pointing out a few more things.
Tackling techniques are taught and reinforced during a player's entire life from the time they begin to play the sport. Quoting from USA Football's website [the official youth football developmental partner of the NFL] in its article on safe tackling drills:
"The keys that we emphasized in every tackling drill were: widen the base, shorten the stride, bend the knees, keep the back straight and head up and always use the foot as the power step (last step before contact) on the side of the shoulder that was going to be used to make the tackle."
There is a key phrase in here: "keep the back straight and head up and always use the foot as the power step." In other words, and this is the way I learned tackling, "lead with your face mask and explode into the ball carrier." That is exactly the technique that I saw James Harrison use in both of his tackles on Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi.
In an interview with the League's Chief of Football Operations, Ray Anderson, on NFL Network, he specifically stated that "if the initial contact to a defenseless player is with the helmet, the forearm, or the shoulder, it is illegal." What is the practical implication of this? I can see two options: Either let the player complete the play and run off untouched with the ball, or drop-kick him since contact with anything above the belt line is illegal.
Defensive players have a right to protect themselves as well, and it has always been that whoever goes into a collision with the most force wins. In most cases the offensive player puts his own head into a position to protect himself that makes helmet contact inevitable. This is exactly what happened in the Dunta Robinson hit on DeSean Jackson.
There were a lot of great points on ESPN's Monday night coverage earlier in the week made by former players. I thought one of the more interesting ones was by Steve Young (no stranger to the concussion), who put much of the blame on inexperienced quarterbacks not able to recognize zone vs. man coverage and putting the ball into places that made their receivers defenseless—places where the ball should not be thrown.
It is a shame the NFL will not take the day that it would require to consult with its former players to gather information and make an informed decision. As an aside, I would not consider former New England Patriot and current macro-hypocrite Rodney Harrison someone who should be in that discussion.
If the NFL wants to protect its players, it should mandate some kind of minimum time that a player has to sit out before returning from a concussion.
If the NFL cared about its players, it would pay for continuing health care benefits for players after they have retired—players who will never get coverage from private insurance carriers due to pre-existing conditions.
If the NFL cared about its players, it would be spending money to invest in new technologies to make helmets more effective.
I guess there are more important things to do, like get those pictures of Harrison hitting Cribbs that are for sale off the NFL.com website. Better check on NFL "Greatest Hits" videos while you are at it.
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