It feels silly that I have to write about this, but with all the controversy, I feel like it has to be said.
This past weekend, there were a rash of big hits that have sent a panic through the NFL, the players and the fans for a bunch of different reasons.
This week seemed as though it was "Concussion City," as several players left the games with the traumatic injuries.
This week alone, David Garrard, Joshua Cribbs, DeSean Jackson, Dunta Robinson, Mohamed Massaquoi, Chris Cooley and others suffered concussions.
Concussions are quickly becoming a problem in the NFL. The game is supposed to be violent and brutal, but having so many players receive concussions on a weekly basis is more than cause for concern. Concussions have been linked to depression in athletes, have been known to shorten careers and lives, and all and all are more harmful to the game than most anything else.
It's why it's been somewhat shocking to see all the negative reaction from players and fans alike in reaction to the NFL's latest crackdown of these shots. It's a move clearly made for player safety, but players have been reacting as though the very idea of legislating against these hits is an affront to the game of football.
I will give you the fact that Dunta Robinson should not have been fined by the NFL for his hit on DeSean Jackson. It was as clean as it possibly could've been; the severity of the hit (along with the severity of the concussion Jackson received) might've had more to do with the ruling than anything.
I'd even give you the shot James Harrison gave to Joshua Cribbs. To the letter of the law, that was a legal shot—Joshua Cribbs was a running back on that play. He had possession of the ball and was not defenseless. The hit was as legal as it could be, despite the harshness of it.
However, the hit on Mohamed Massaquoi was inexcusable. Period.
But to hear Harrison tell it, that's the way he's always played—by leading with the helmet, launching himself at a defenseless player, cracking straight to the head. And then he got fined and complained and even threatened retirement because of it.
Likewise, Brandon Merriweather also had a blatant hit on Todd Heap. Heap was a defenseless player, in the air, and Merriweather leaps up, leading with his head to crack Heap helmet-to-helmet on purpose.
To hear (mostly defensive, not shockingly) players talk this week, you'd think every defensive player in the whole damn NFL and most of the defensive players on the practice squad had gotten fined too. So many people have talked about how this will "fundamentally change the game."
Mark Schlereth went on a huge tirade about how the NFL is hypocritical, as they are selling the big hits. News leaked that the NFL was selling photos of the hit. Schlereth showed a DVD available on sale that showcased big hits.
Big hits...to quote a wise man, "You keep using that word...I do not think you know what it means."
A "big hit" is not cracking a defenseless player head-to-head.
The outcry about this issue seems largely unfounded and mostly stupid. The NFL hasn't changed any rules.
Illegal (and that's the keyword) hits have been illegal for a long time. This isn't about taking big hits out of the game. It's about taking illegal—illegal—ILLEGAL—hits outs of the game.
An illegal hit is defined as launching yourself (leaving your feet), leading with the helmet, shoulder or forearm and aiming for the head of a defenseless player.
Those kinds of hits are inexcusable. With all that we know about concussions, we should know better.
Likewise, this seems to be a newer problem. For all the defensive trash talk about prima donna receivers and babied quarterbacks, players on the defensive side of the ball are going for the big hits instead of wrapping a guy up and tackling them.
How many guys have you seen launch themselves at a player, only to completely whiff on it as a wide receiver or running back hurdles over them on the way to the end zone?
Tackling has become a lost art form, as players have been more concerned with legitimately injuring guys, taking them out of the game and making SportsCenter highlight reels than stopping a player.
It's selfish in the extreme that a player such as James Harrison would, in essence, throw a hissy fit and threaten retirement because he got caught doing something that is clearing against the rules. It's an insult to his teammates, the Steeler fans and to Mohamed Massaquoi that not only would he say he was trying to hurt a player, but when he is fined for a flagrant disregard for the rules, he threatens to retire.
Some big tough guy—willing to take a cheap shot on a guy who can't defend himself, but not willing to man up and pay a fine and say, "You know what, my bad."
I hear players saying, "You can't stop doing something you've been taught your whole life to do." Through Pop Warner, high school and college you are taught to tackle first. You're taught to go out there and be physical, but to be respectful to your opposition.
You are not taught to turn yourself into a human missile, looking to destroy the first thing to get in your way.
I see tons of legal big hits. Likewise, I've seen injuries due to hardly any contact at all. Injuries and big hits are part of the game.
That said, if you think the actions of the NFL are trying to get rid of big hits, you are wrong. Terribly wrong.
This isn't about getting rid of big hits. Big hits are absolutely still legal. They're all good. I love big hits, I love the physicality of the game. Who doesn't? That's what makes it football.
But if you're worried about big hits being gone, players being handcuffed or if you are thinking, "Why don't they just make the guys play flag football or two-hand touch?" you're missing the point.
I'd be glad to argue why you are wrong, and you don't have to believe me, but you are wrong in the extreme.
Big hits will exist as long as the league does. But no longer will jerks like James Harrison get to take advantage of players and then shrug it off like he did nothing wrong.
Amen for that.