The NFL’s recent decision to suspend players for” flagrant” hits and ” helmet to helmet” hits was long overdue and I am surprised that reaction to it was so divided. The sight of a player lying motionless on the field after being knocked out cold , and then of him being carted away, his head immobilized with padding, is horrifying . I would have thought that anyone and everyone would be in favor of the new policy.
There are two reasons fans give for opposing such suspensions. One is that the new rules will take the element of danger and violence out of the game . As one fan put it , the league should rename itself The NFFL ( National Flag Football League ) . The other reason is the feeling that the players are making a lot of money and that they should earn it . ( Actual quote “ just play the dam game you all make a ton of money if you don’t like it get a real job” ). These chaps would no doubt feel at home in the Coliseum watching gladiators battle to the death and turning their thumbs down at every opportunity. I thought the object of football was to advance the ball over the goal line and kick FG’s , not to hurt people deliberately and knock them out of the game. Even without such dangerous hits , there is plenty of hard hitting to go around.
It was interesting that the players opposed to the new rules were almost all defensive players and linemen . In other words , they were not those on the receiving end of such hits ; they were no wide receivers , QBs or RBs among them. To some extent , I understand their reservations . In the split seconds that they have to close in and make a tackle , they want to do it instinctively. If they have to worry about suspensions for improper tackles , it will slow them down and reduce their effectiveness. Also , at the moment of collision players , both offensive and defensive , tend to put their heads down and go low. This might result in a head -to-head collision through no fault of their own . While these are legitimate grievances , there is no excuse for the sort of plays where a player launches himself head first at another without making even a pretense of tackling. The sole object is to put a hurt on the other player and preferably knock him out of the game .It’s ridiculous for James Harrison , the Pittsburgh Steelers LB, to claim that this new rule is contrary to the way they have been taught to play the game . I don’t think that any coach ever teaches a player to keep his hands to his sides and launch himself headfirst at a helpless receiver. When Harrison said that he might have to decide whether to continue to play under the new rules or to retire , I had to laugh. When he came back to practice after only one day off, it was bruited about that he did so because his love for the game . Yeah right ! It had nothing to do with the $ 20 million he would be walking away from otherwise.
It is misleading to call the new rules a rule change . The rules against flagrant hits have been on the books for some time now ; it’s only that the penalties have been increased. Mere fines , even in the order of $ 50,000 or more , mean very little to players who are making millions . The suspensions will hopefully prove a real deterrent and lessen the danger of concussions and other serious injuries that have become all too frequent in recent years .