Tackling the helmet-to-helmet hit controversy

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when watching a hit like this live?

What’s your favorite part of a football game? Is it a great pass rush? What about a perfectly executed weakside blitz? Maybe it’s precision passing. Or, like most people, it’s the bone-crushing people. Every week, we look forward to see who has gotten “Jacked up!”We all make that collective “Oh!” every time Ray Lewis lays into somebody. It’s part of the game. It’s football’s version of WWE.

Still, recent events have put this aspect of the game into question. Whether it’s the hit that Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson laid on Eagles reciever DeSean Jackson, or the hits by James Harrison of the Steelers, or the hit that left Rutgers player Eric LeGrand paralyzed from the neck down, the nature of hard hits is in crisis. Does the NFL suspend players for hitting hard? Do they fine them?

The sensible thing to do is suspend players. These hits are causing serious injuries, and the NFL has to do everything they can to protect their players. But there’s one problem? How do you enforce something that is instinctual?

If you’re a safety, and it’s just you, the receiver and the ball, you’re going to do everything you can to make sure the receiver gets the ball. You’re not going to be thinking about being suspended for a hard hit to the head. You’re going for the player.

We often think of suspensions and fines as deterrents, but in football, they rarely work out that way. Many players are fined excessively for unnecessary roughness penalties. But, that doesn’t stop it from happening. Football is not a game that can be swayed by fines and suspensions. Penalties, a supposed deterrent, do not prevent penalized behavior. If anything, it’s a subtle reminder to not do it again.

Still, players are in danger. As athletes become faster and stronger, the impact of a hit is going to be more. With post concussion syndrome becoming a real problem for former players, something needs to be done.

But what? Sure, you can suspend a player. But, instincts will take over, and hard hitting will ensue. Football is a game of aggression, first and foremost, not a game of careful plotting. How do you legislate aggression?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a way to change someone’s instincts. I think suspensions have to be a part of the equation. But how far do they go? 1 game for a first time offender, perhaps. 2 for a 2 time offender and so on. To go extreme, you could eject a player. But again, it’s impossible to legislate aggression. Once an aggressive player, always an agressive player.

The other issue the NFL has to deal with is losing fan interest. If you take away hits from the game, how many fans go with it? I know, personally, football would be less enjoyable without those bone crushing hits. And I know many other fans feel the same way.

Player safety has to be of utmost importance, but it can’t be done in a way that makes fans lose interest. The fans are what make the NFL go. Losing them is not only bad for the league, but bad for the bottom line.

The NFL has quite the balancing act. How do you balance player safety with fan enjoyment? How do you legislate aggression? Can you? The answer is not clear. There may not be a be-all, end-all solution. But, in order to keep players healthy, something has to be done. Football should not be a sport that leaves people paralyzed. Football may be a violent sport, but there’s a line, and paralysis is on the other side of that line. Roger Goodell and the NFL have quite the dilemma on their hands. And one, if not solved properly, that could hurt the future of the league.

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