NFL Schools Players on Heavy Hits: Is the League Taking It Too Far?

Joe CipollaContributor IOctober 24, 2010

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 17:  James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers encourages the fans to make noise while playing the Cleveland Browns on October 17, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 28-10.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers’ legendary linebacker, Jack Lambert, said “they should just put a skirt on the quarterback to distinguish him from real players.”  Thirty years later, it seems the skirts need to be handed out to receivers as well.

This week, in the wake of “controversial” hits by James Harrison, Brandon Meriweather and Dunta Robinson, over $250,000 in fines were levied by the NFL for helmet-to-helmet contact.  In addition, the league sent a video to every team warning of illegal hits to “defenseless players” and how they will be more strictly enforced with fines and suspensions without pay.

What is the players’ response to these actions? 

A collective sigh of “bulls%*t.”

The video and the policy were mocked via Twitter by Minnesota Vikings punter, Chris Kluwe.  Yes, you read that right; a punter is calling out the NFL.  And a punter is, by definition, a “defenseless player.”

Kluwe tweeted, "Great quote from the video: 'you can't lead with your helmet, forearm or shoulder.’  I guess we have to karate kick people now when tackling.” 

Kluwe also posted a photo of stick figure drawings he made to further mock the NFL video.  The drawings showed a stick figure tackling another stick figure in a helmet-to-helmet manner. Next to one stick-figure drawing, it read, "QB or receiver that makes over $10M—Illegal."  Next to the second drawing: "Punter or anyone else we don't give a f%*k about—Legal." Beneath the drawings was written, "Remember! We at the league office are totally concerned about integrity! Seriously! No really, we totally are!"

I can’t help but to agree with Kluwe.  The measures the NFL has taken to curtail these “illegal” hits are threatening to change football for the worse. 

Adding this over-enforcement of helmet-to-helmet (or forearm-to-helmet, or shoulder-to-helmet) contact could result in a completely defenseless league with scores that border on the ridiculous. 

Do we, as NFL fans, want to see “gun-shy” defenders who are going to second guess themselves if they have an opportunity to crush a receiver coming over the middle or hung out to dry by his QB? 

These rules are getting to the point where a defender will have to let a defenseless receiver try to catch the ball before the hit is put on them.  At that rate, the league might as well let receivers call for a “fair-catch” in these situations.

The league needs to be realistic.  Football is a brutal sport that is played at break-neck speed.  To expect defenders, in the middle of a play, to consciously consider when, how and where he’s going to hit an opposing ball carrier is unrealistic.

It is pure instincts that drive players in these situations.  It’s a hard case to argue that any defender is purposely going for a helmet-to-helmet hit.  Hits like that are almost always consequences of circumstance. 

And why isn’t the league addressing this from the other side of the ball?

Running backs are taught to run headfirst and drive their helmet into defenders and run through them.  Plenty of RBs have gone head first into defenders helmets and never have they been flagged. 

Why is there a double standard?

I think the answer is fairly obvious.  Like Chris Kluwe illustrated, they want to protect the league’s “pretty-boys.”  The marquee offensive players that generate tons of revenue for the NFL are too valuable to risk career-ending injury, and defenders are a dime-a-dozen.

Quarterbacks are already over-protected like primadonnas where late hits are flagged if a defender hits a QB a millisecond after he releases the ball.  Hall of Fame QB, John Elway, agrees with this.  He said, “I want them to protect quarterbacks, but at times, it goes too far. I used to hate it when Jack Lambert said they should put the quarterbacks in skirts. [But] now, they should put them in ballerina outfits.” 

Now it looks like the league wants receivers and backs to have the same elitist treatment. 

In addition to over-protection of the high paid offensive all-stars, there could be another motive for the league’s actions. 

One of the bigger issues regarding the new collective bargaining agreement negotiations is health benefits.  The players want more and the league does not want to give it to them. 

Football obviously causes plenty of injuries that results in millions of dollars spent on medical care.  I can’t even begin to imagine what the cost to the NFL is to provide medical coverage to their “employees.” 

So what could the league do to try to prevent as many injuries as possible?

Start handing out fines and suspension for illegal hits.

Maybe the next step is to have to have the offense wear flags.  The NFL could then stand for the “National Flag-Football League.”

In addition to saying that QBs should wear skirts, Jack Lambert also said this: "I believe the game is designed to reward the ones who hit the hardest. If you can't take it, you shouldn't play." 

That may have been true 30 years ago but not today.