The National Football League is the most popular professional sports league in the country, some would argue the world. It has gotten even better in the recent past due to the presence of league commissioner Rodger Goodell and his strict ways. Ironically, the next strict move he makes could be the league's downfall if it deals with unrealistic restrictions on the physical nature of the play.
The recent hits by Hines Ward have come under scrutiny of the league and its commissioner because they were deemed to rough. It's an odd assessment since none of the hits that Ward has been recently fined for, nor the most recent block on the Bengals' Keith Rivers were flagged. Being that the NFL is not known for officials that are afraid to throw a penalty flag or ten in a game, a hit that seems legal to them should be legal, no? They are, after all, the refs.
The league has begun micro-managing the games post facto. Someone in the league office looks at game films and decided whether this or that play seems kosher? Am I the only one who thinks that is bad?
The most recent issue that has been taken with Ward was the block he laid on Rivers. He threw a vicious hit on the Cincinnati linebacker in an effort to prevent him from tackling Ward's fellow Steeler, Matt Spaeth. Criticism has come Ward's way for both the force of the hit (it broke Rivers' jaw) and the fact that Rivers never saw the hit coming and that some feel (after review of the film) that Rivers would not have caught Spaeth.
Here's the deal. In the NFL, players are prevented from blocking in several ways, one of which is to "block in the back" of the defender. This gets called very frequently on kickoffs and punt returns where the defenders can outrun the blockers toward the returner. Hines block on Rivers was not in the back.
Should it matter that Rivers was so focused on the ball carrier that he did not see Ward? Sorry, but no.
Should it matter that a slow-motion review of the play seems to indicate that Rivers may not have had the right angle to catch Spaeth? Nope. Wrong again. The rule book is free of verbiage related to proximity to the ball when someone is being blocked.
As for the other issue, that Ward's hit was too hard, again we must say: So? As Mike Ditka asserted, "Dancing is a contact sport, football is a collision sport."
The NFL has done much to protect quarterbacks in recent years. Now it seems that the next move will be to take hits on other players. When you try to limit a 275 pound defensive tackle from spearing a QB that weighs in at 205, you may have some leeway. When you decide that a 205 pound receiver hits too hard for a 241 pound linebacker it's something entirely.
It could be the beginning of a big decline. No one is tuning in to see flag football.
If Rodger Goodell wants to continue improving the league and violence is on his mind, his attention this week should be focused on Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens. Suggs admitted in a radio interview that the Ravens had a bounty on the Steelers Rashard Mendenhall and Hines Ward when the Baltimore played Pittsburgh. Mendenhall was hit by the Ravens' Ray Lewis and suffered a season ending shoulder injury.
If the league office can't find fault in the idea of bounties, which many former players admit was and is common practice, perhaps they could fine Suggs for sheer stupidity. Why would you admit to purposely trying to hurt someone who received such an injury? We're talking weapons-grade stupid!
Hopefully Rodger Goodell will hear what all the fans are trying to get across. If you remove the hitting from football we won't like it nearly as much.