NFL Rule Change for Flagrant Hits: Implications for Players, Teams and Future

Caleb GarlingCorrespondent IMay 25, 2011

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Tim Hightower #34 of the Arizona Cardinals is tackled by Larry Foote #50 and Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The NFL owners unanimously passed a new rule concerning fines for flagrant hits. If teams start to show a pattern of bad hits, the league will take action against the franchise in addition to the players.

The stated goal behind the new measure is to put more accountability on the clubs, and NFL Vice President Adolpho Birch didn’t rule out the notion that teams could even lose draft picks if their aggregate flagrant hits raise Roger Goodell’s ire.

To me, the rule is sensible. Absolutely teams should own the responsibility of keeping their hammerheads from hurting other players. Anything we can do to prevent coaches from giving the subtle nod to really let a guy have it, the better.

Of course, some usual suspects cried out. James Harrison, who was fined over $100,000 last season for bum hits, tweeted, “I'm absolutely sure now after this last rule change that the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots." The comment was about as surprising as hearing that Amy Winehouse is disgusted that certain drugs are still illegal.

A few other angles should be considered, kept on the back burner:

1) If the Commish does choose to pinch draft picks, you can be sure there will be a media hailstorm. How you can equitably compare one team’s total flagrant hits versus another is beyond me. That seems like picking 32 downtown bars and asking, “Which one has the drunkest patrons?” Sure, a few will bubble to the top, but making a definitive case will be impossible.

That said, I don’t rule out Goodell exercising the power at some point (especially if there’s a slow news cycle).

2) But think about the NFL’s system of fines and punishments for a moment. I mean, fining players is weird, right? We’re used to it, but do any other workplaces operate like this? Imagine if you filed a report a day late and your boss came by your cube demanding 50 bucks.

I don’t disagree that it’s the only way to get a player's attention, but I can’t get the image out of my head of Roger Goodell showing up on James Harrison’s doorstep with a cookie jar: “Come on now, James. $35,000 please.”

3) We’re going to get more and more “death of old school” columns, tweets and interviews. And you know something? So what? You know what else was “old school?” Speeding down the highway in a car without a seat belt. Riding a bike, skiing and playing hockey without a helmet. Not wearing orange while hunting. Playing football with a leather helmet and pads made out of rice paper.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it!” has been and will continue to be the most idiotic defense in the world. There isn’t anything wrong with making a guy think twice before lowering the hammer on a defenseless player.


4) Let’s be honest—the new rule probably won’t do that much unless the Commish goes crazy stripping draft picks. Otherwise, the new regulation is a feather in the “we’re doing what we can to protect players” cap of the owners.

I’ve said it before, but preventing injuries due to brutal hits requires changing the game of football, not attacking players’ and teams’ wallets. While not hurtful, this rule is little more than the league’s continuous alligator-arming of the issue.

We’re dealing with simple physics; the injuries won’t change until the game does—not the fines.


[Enjoy? Go to Caleb's Profile to become a fan and get future columns.]