James Harrison and the Pittsburgh Steelers Question Roger Goodell

Derek CrouseContributor IIINovember 8, 2010

Is Harrison and other intimidating big-hitters taking to much criticism?
Is Harrison and other intimidating big-hitters taking to much criticism?Karl Walter/Getty Images

The Domestication of the NFL

In the past few weeks, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has not played a single snap on any team, but he has had a big influence of how players execute on the field. With all the money players are being fined, the NFL players and fans are wondering what constitutes for playing hard, proper technique and intimidating the opposition. It is a polarizing debate that stirs mixed emotions. 

Recently, players like James Harrison are the target of an ongoing issue involving players’ safety. Harrison alone has received a total of $100,000 in fines for just three hits since Week 8. Some players have to make big hits like Harrison to get a bigger contract. For a defensive player, sometimes it is counter productive to make a lighter hit on an offensive player. Remember Monday Night Countdown’s “Jacked Up” segment? 

When most people think of a prototypical safety, we might think of a Troy Polamalu or Ronnie Lott. These players are known for putting big hits on players trying to catch balls across the middle and build a reputation, which leads to bigger payouts on and off the field.

Last year, Troy was on the Madden cover and now can be see with his trademark hair in Head and Shoulders commercials. Would these opportunities for Troy had been there unless he played with such a physical style?

When the popularity of something goes mainstream, it tends to have an effect on it, whether it be positive or negative. When MMA was deemed too violent by the media and politicians to be broadcast, they put gloves on the fighters and sanctioned rules. That is when the UFC took off and began to increase in popularity with a mainstream audience.

Football is the most popular sport nationally by a landslide.

The NFL market is booming right now with the nation as a whole. The two most increased demographics of viewership are women and children under 12. Even when you say the phrase “women and children under 12,” it sounds fragile and very unphysical. The league says they are looking out for the players, but are there other reasons for the recent enforcing of rules that were already in the books?

The league has taken away so many options from the defense throughout the years. The wide receivers can’t be touched downfield and hits on the quarterback are heavily scrutinized, especially the top echelon of quarterbacks.

Like the star players in the NBA getting the calls from the refs, taking an egregious hit on Drew Brees or Peyton Manning will get you a bigger fine than if a player hits a Jay Cutler or Carson Palmer. Cutler has taken some fine-able hits this year without the same outrage as some of the other star QBs.

As seen years ago in baseball, offense brings money and ratings and the NFL is embracing that idea. The league has become oriented for offense and the defense has taken a backseat to the highlight reels of long bombs and potent passing games.

The last time you had a team win the Super Bowl that had a defense first mentality was the Ravens a decade ago. Ray Lewis, the last real face of defense besides Polamalu was the leader of that team.

What we have to remember is that these players are investments for the owners. Most fans are not willing to pay to see a backup quarterback instead of a Tom Brady, Brees, or Brett Favre for an extended period. It makes for less storylines and the buildup by the media before Sunday afternoons would suffer.

Ironically, the NFL wants to see players stay safe, while still giving them an option to wear different types of helmets. Some players don’t want to go to the new helmet, which is bulkier and padded more. When NASCAR had to deal with the death of Dale Earnhardt, the Hans device was put into every car no matter what the drivers thought.

Like NASCAR drivers, many players reluctantly want to wear the new helmets and that is still their choice.

Recently, DeSean Jackson decided to wear the bigger, heavily padded helmet. Maybe players will have to learn the hard way like Jackson did if they want to be safer in a high-speed collision.

Just before the big hit comes, many times players tuck their heads, the hit occurs, and their bodies fall to the ground twitching like a boxer who has been TKOed. That is a black cloud that the league wants out of. They want to be appealing to all ages and genders, which is a very hard task for any form of entertainment.

Just ask any band who starts to get popular and has to change due to the money that is invested in them. They might lose the soul that they built off of early so they can appeal to the masses.

As for the defensive players, they are going to have to adapt or look to be heavily fined or suspended. The offensive players will receive even more of the glory and money that follows, while their counterparts will lose SportsCenter top 10s and cash from advertisers and owners wanting that physical and intimidating player who offenses fear to gameplan for.

I wonder how much money a Deacon Jones would lose in this new era of football?

As with any hazardous job like a Hollywood stuntman or an action sports star like Travis Pastrana, they know the consequences of their career choice, and are paid accordingly.

As the season heads into the winter months, we will see if Roger Goodell can keep changing the game, while still keeping the true fundamental nature of “professional” (not high school or college) football. They are professionals who are paid to put their body into harms way. Many players in the league have the exact same opinion.