Thanks to misinformation spread by ESPN and several uneducated players’ comments, there is a general consensus amongst fans and players that the NFL is making sweeping changes to the game and how it’s played. The truth is far less exciting and doesn’t increase TV ratings and website hits like controversy does, so nobody is bothering to dwell on the little details like the facts. Well here are a few facts to help clear the air.
FALSE: The NFL is banning helmet to helmet hits from the game.
FACT: Helmet to helmet hits are already illegal and have been for years.
FALSE: The NFL is banning all violent hits from the game.
FACT: Launching your body at a defenseless player is already illegal and has been a while.
FALSE: The NFL is changing the way defenses can play the game.
FACT:The NFL is increasing the punishment for breaking already existing rules because the players were blatantly disregarding them and getting seriously injured.
Rodney Harrison was frequently atop the NFL’s most fined player list in his playing days, and when he said on Football Night in America that the fines never deterred him from taking a cheap shot the NFL took notice. Nate Burleson got fined $15,000 for a uniform violation and punting a ball into the stands after scoring a touchdown. That was the same fine than several players received for helmet to helmet hits that resulted in players missing games due to concussions.
Player safety is important whether the fans and players agree or not. The league isn’t trying to change the way the game is played, they are trying to make the game safer for those that play it because having crippled retired players and injured superstar players isn’t good for anybody. DeSean Jackson is a pretty exciting player and he’s going to miss several weeks with whiplash and a severe concussion. Was the one hit so exciting that it can make up for a star player being gone for several weeks?
James Harrison has probably taken the foolishness over the rule enforcement to the highest level possible by throwing his temper tantrum and threatening to retire because he “doesn’t even know how he’s supposed to play the game anymore.” Blowing up a defenseless receiver and then gloating about it isn’t manly or tough, it’s cowardly. If I run up and kick a guy in the groin or punch him when he’s not looking does that make me tougher than him? How about using a weapon in a fistfight? Is that manly or tough? No, it’s not. So using your helmet as a weapon doesn’t make you tough either.
I’ve also had enough with the “it’s football, not ballet” argument too. Thanks to video games like NFL Blitz and dumbed down highlight segments like ESPN’s “Jacked Up” there is a whole generation of fans that only watches the game for brutal hits. If that’s what you are into that’s fine, but maybe you’re better served watching MMA, demolition derbies or Jackass if all you want to see is violent collisions and bodily harm.
Football combines strategy, physical ability and teamwork better than any sport and it has captivated America since the late 1800’s. The move towards a safer game isn’t unprecedented in football. In fact, the game was in danger of being outlawed after a series of deaths on the field in in the 1930’s. Changes were made to make the game safer and football lived on. The clothesline tackle, head slap, forearm shiver and face masking were all outlawed and the game survived that too. The NFL isn’t even changing the rules so I’m positive the game will survive this too.
It’s funny to see the vehement reaction to the announcement that breaking the rules will result in stiffer penalties when the NFL has made rule changes that dramatically affected the game and nobody made a peep. The rule that allowed the offensive tackles to line up farther from the line of scrimmage to help them handle the pass rush better, moving the kickoffs back five yards to the 30 yard line and the emphasis on downfield contact on the receivers that has allowed all sorts of passing records to be broken. All of those rules drastically changed the game and nobody cared. Why are people getting so riled up about enforcing the rules that are in the rulebook?
The NFL did help make this mess with the institution and emphasis on ridiculous ticky tack penalties like the 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalties for incidental hands to the head hits on the quarterback or the automatic first downs for hands to the face which offer minimal player protection.
The bottom line is the NFL is not changing the way football players play the game, they are stiffening the penalties for breaking the rules. It’s no different than when you were a kid. Think about it, if your only punishment for breaking curfew was being told to never do it again, how likely were you to break curfew again? If you got grounded for a month when you broke curfew, you bet you’d be on time more often than not.
The league has to protect the players and they need to be proactive. To have all those vicious and unnecessary hits one day after Eric LeGrand, a junior at Rutgers, was paralyzed was more than stunning. The league is doing the right thing to send the message that there will be real punishment for breaking the rules.