October 19, 2010

The NFL will begin suspending players for "dangerous and flagrant" hits: NFL football operations executive Ray Anderson announced on ESPN Radio that the league intends to enforce a "strict liability" standard for illegal hits to the head and neck, and will suspend players for dangerous and flagrant hits, particularly those involving helmet-to-helmet contact. ESPN's Gregg Esterbrook comments on the fact that the solution is merely the enforcement of existing rules, and what that says about the culture in and around the NFL.

posted by lil_brown_bat to football at 12:30 PM - 26 comments

I'm not totally against this new procedure, but to me it sounds as if there will be a lot of gray area when it comes to deciding which hits will be penalized with suspension and which ones won't. While I don't like to see hits that cause players to be severely injured, players are taught to play aggressively, in this manner, from a fairly early age. The "big hits" are always the ones played over and over on highlight shows, and it's a very small window that can turn a good, hard hit into a "flagrant" one, especially knowing the speed at which the game is played. These players suit up in equipment that allows them to turn their bodies into human missiles and this is what happens. I'd much rather see it clamped down hard at the high school and college levels instead of making the majority of the focus on the NFL. Start teaching players how it needs to be done, correctly, sooner, and maybe this problem starts to disappear.

posted by dyams at 01:46 PM on October 19, 2010

One thing I noticed when watching the replay of the DeSean Jackson hit was that the announcer kept commenting how it was a vicious hit on a defenseless receiver which leads me to wonder what he expected Duanta Robinson to do differently in that situation. Jackson was in the process of catching the ball, does his 'defenseless' status mean Robinson has to let him make the catch before applying a hit?

I believe there are also penalties for hitting defenseless receivers (that is what Robinson was flagged for if I remember correctly). I'm all for it if the receiver doesn't have the ball, but I can't see how it can be a justifiable penalty if it is a non helmet-to-helmet hit on a receiver who is in the process of catching the ball.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 03:01 PM on October 19, 2010

I did not see anything wrong with the DeSean Jackson hit. The situation was a receiver crossing the middle and he was hit with a perfectly timed hit in which the defender put his helmet on the shoulder pad of Jackson. Yes it was a big boy hit even by NFL standards, but there was nothing malicious about it nor was it illegal under the current rules. Even an accidental collision can be vicious at the speeds of today's game. I just don't feel taking that aspect away from the game is the correct move. Yes the league needs to clamp down on malicous hits that are intentional when they are for the sake of harming an opposing player but the defensive back's job is to separate the ball from the receiver and in this case it was a clean hit and unfortunately both players suffered.

When Joe Theisman had his leg snapped on national TV it was just an accident of the game. Regardless of what the league tries to do. Guys are going to get hurt playing big league football and every player that steps on the field must accept that risk or choose not to play. In auto racing guys die. Although they try to make the sport as safe as possible, nothing will be able to make it absoutely safe. I hate to see football legislate the very essence of the game away because of a particularly odd week end that featured an unusually high number of big hits. Although there was one hit in particular that I would have considered malicious, but it wasn't the DeSean Jackson one.

posted by Atheist at 04:10 PM on October 19, 2010

Essence of the game or not, I'm in favor of the enforcement. It isn't a case of waving a magic wand and making a problem go away, but it is a start in making people take a particular risk more seriously. To date, we've simply been too blase about the risk.

When assessing the risk of an activity, there are two main aspects to look at. The first is the likelihood of an event, and the second are the likelihood of serious consequences if it does happen. Consider three scenarios:

Likelihood of falling off a 10 centimeter balance beam set 6 inches off the ground (assuming you're not a gymnast): fairly high
Likelihood of serious consequences: low

Likelihood of falling off the 8" wide railing of a bridge that is 100 feet above a shallow, rocky river: low
Likelihood of serious consequences: high

Likelihood of being hit by a meteorite: vanishingly tiny
Likelihood of serious consequences: extremely high

People don't usually worry about the situations where either likelihood is very low. They walk around without fear of meteors, even though a meteor would turn them into a bad-smelling paste, and they hop right up on that balance beam, topple off and laugh. It's the situations in the middle that give people pause, or should do so. I think these hits are in that part of the spectrum. People aren't getting severely injured (at least, not that we can see right away) on anywhere near all the helmet-to-helmet hits...but the #1 mechanism for a c-spine injury is what's called "axial loading" (meaning that something lands on top of your head, or you land on top of your head, or you run into something head-first), particularly with flexion. It is a risky place to play -- unambiguously so. It is a case of walking on a relatively wide ledge over a very severe drop. That is exactly how we should look at it.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 06:36 PM on October 19, 2010

I think it's the price one pays if we continue to support a sport where steroids are widely prevalent and the athletes can be lethal weapons. These guys are already dying 20 years earlier than the national average. What more is wanted from them?

It's not about the "gray area" of enforcement. It's about trying to stop people from ruining lives, and/or killing people.

Remember when they banned helmet first hits? It happened and it was cleaned up for the most part. Is the game terrible because of it? No, though many thought football was ruined forever because of it. But goddamn it - these guys are already dying early because of the perpetual abuse their bodies take. I think that players are now too big and too fast to ignore the reality of the impacts.

Now, this is at present, a knee-jerk reaction by the league (although Easterbrook makes a good point - this isn't really a new rule). But I don't think they're really off track here. There has to be an enforced accountability for a period of time until the game has adjusted.

Well that or we're okay with corpses. Some people are probably just fine with corpses.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 06:58 PM on October 19, 2010

Harrison got fined the most this weekend. That tells me he would have been on the "suspension" list if it had happened this coming weekend. But both of his hits were legal!!!!! He did hit head to head on the first one, but the runner was a ball carrier. On the 2nd one he threw his shoulder+forearm...I guess it's possible his head hit the receiver, but I didn't see it. Either way, he made 2 very hard, but legal, hits and the league is going to sit the former defensive MVP for a game or 2? Can you imagine in a tight playoff race losing a player because the league deemed those hits "excessive" when there was absolutely nothing wrong with them? If you want to do it for a blatant head-to-head hit, fine...but based on their fining they don't seem to be using that in their decision making.

The PLAYERS are the guys you're trying to protect and they HATE this rule. If the league is really interested in protecting them, don't expand the season to 18 games...improve their equipment...take care of your former players. Those are the things the PLAYERS want you to do to protect them.

posted by bdaddy at 09:28 AM on October 20, 2010

But both of his hits were legal!!!!!

I think that's debatable. And he didn't help himself with his post-game comments.

improve their equipment

Much like hockey is coming to grips with, I think it's time to stop improving sports equipment at the major-league level. It makes people too fearless and too dangerous. The game has changed over the course of the past 50 years. A guy like James Harrison would be Superman if you dropped him on the 1980 Steelers: that size, that speed-- he'd be bigger than their D linemen and faster than their cornerbacks. The game should be adjusted. The obvious solution would be to just remove facemasks entirely, but that will never happen.

posted by yerfatma at 09:59 AM on October 20, 2010

I think that if you want to start suspending players for these hits, someone beside Goodell needs to determine how bad a hit was or wasnt and the intent. I think the league would have no problem finding 5-9 former players whos only job would be to rule on these types of hits. I am sick of Goodell waving his all powerfull wand. We need a little more objective of an opinion. Also along the lines of the Harrison hits, I think he saves 25,000 minimum if he just shuts his mouth. He has Joey Porter issues and needs to learn when to be quiet. I still feel that during both hits, James was going low. If the ball carrier goes low too, helmets hit. Thats the game.

posted by Debo270 at 12:56 PM on October 20, 2010

I think Robinson getting fined is ridiculous. The hit was completely legal.

The players aren't too happy about this new rule either.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 01:29 PM on October 20, 2010

The players aren't too happy about this new rule either.

No kidding?!

Upset Harrison excused from Steelers practice

posted by BornIcon at 02:35 PM on October 20, 2010

According to this, Harrison is considering retirement.

posted by brainofdtrain at 04:15 PM on October 20, 2010

Well that or we're okay with corpses. Some people are probably just fine with corpses.

Some are: players themselves. Many people willingly sign up for dangerous jobs all the time.

I understand accountability, responsibility, all that-but i find it odd that no one cares (or at least takes seriously) what the people who are actually at risk think-the majority think it is garbage, and the majority seem to think the general trend of the league in this regard has been garbage.

Also, the players have a union and the leverage to effect these changes themselves if they desire them, but they don't. They aren't helpless little kids, they are adults willingly and knowingly pursuing a high-risk, high-reward career. So while I appreciate that viewers are sensitive to the physical dangers football players risk in playing their sport, at times the moral philosophizing by fans seems elitist-the players don't want these restrictions, but surely they must need our help to see the issues involved.

@Weedy-this isn't an attack on you. From the little you've written here I don't know for sure where you stand on all this, so no personal attack here. Your one isolated line looked like a good spring board for my .02, so that's why I quoted it.

posted by brainofdtrain at 04:28 PM on October 20, 2010

...I guess it's possible his head hit the receiver, but I didn't see it...

You didn't hear it?! I heard the hit where I was sitting in the stands. And watching the reruns later Sunday night I know you could hear it on TV.

I could maybe over look the Cribbs hit, maybe, but this one was over the line as far as I am concerned.

He wants to retire? Let him, the Steelers have lost, traded, waived, and cut loose "valuable players" before, and still they seem to do just fine.

posted by steelergirl at 05:25 PM on October 20, 2010

And if nothing else, Harrison and anyone else hitting like that should at least consider the potential damage they are doing to their own heads/brains.

posted by steelergirl at 05:27 PM on October 20, 2010

It's cool brain, and I agree you have a point. But I just don't think that I take the opinion of the uninjured, millions-at-stake current player as gospel. That guy thinks he's indestructible.

Ah, maybe that's unfair. However - there are other players out there who aren't complaining about this. They would be the retired and fired ones who are trying to raise awareness of the impact of their serious, crippling, injuries. I'd listen to them too.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 07:23 PM on October 20, 2010

Weedy-that's a really good point re retired & fired players. Maybe Harrison should have to spend a week with a retired guy in agony every time he goes helmet to helmet-would probably be more effective than suspensions/fines. Or what if for every vicious hit, the hitter would have to contribute to a gigantic cookie jar that would be used by the NFL to take care of retired players? Heck, allow it to be a tax write off-(almost) everybody wins that way.

Also, I agree that the uninjured shouldn't have the sole say in this-i was reacting more against the people who seem uninterested their opinion; i find that to be crazy. I just have a hard time believing that the Steelers & Browns players who saw & heard those 2 hits in a way none of us ever will understand the risks substantially less than those of us who are just fans. I guess I wish that there was more balance in this conversation as a whole.

posted by brainofdtrain at 08:08 PM on October 20, 2010

You didn't hear it?! I heard the hit where I was sitting in the stands. And watching the reruns later Sunday night I know you could hear it on TV.

Yea, I heard a smash. The same smash I hear when shoulder pads hit helmets from 2 people running full speed in the opposite direction. He threw his forearm at him..he didn't spear with the crown of his head. Like I said, there may have been helmet to helmet contact, but he didn't lead with his helmet like the Pats defender did against Heap.

And I absolutely HATE how everybody is using the Rutger's guy as an example as to why this stuff needs to be curtailed. The Rutger's injury would not have been prevented by any rule change related to this at all.

posted by bdaddy at 11:32 PM on October 20, 2010

The Rutgers player led with his head making a tackle. A rule change that discouraged headhunting could definitely impact future injuries of that kind.

posted by rcade at 12:03 AM on October 21, 2010

but he didn't lead with his helmet like the Pats defender did against Heap

OK, I will give you that, bdaddy. But I don't think Harrison could have said it was an accident. If Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs could have played the whole game, it might have had a different outcome, or the score might have been closer.

posted by steelergirl at 01:33 AM on October 21, 2010

Looks like Harrison will not be retiring. I guess he realized that his Kent State education was not going to make him $50 million.

posted by Debo270 at 01:55 PM on October 21, 2010

I guess he realized that his Kent State education was not going to make him $50 million.

What you got against a Kent State education?!

posted by BornIcon at 02:00 PM on October 21, 2010

So while I appreciate that viewers are sensitive to the physical dangers football players risk in playing their sport, at times the moral philosophizing by fans seems elitist-the players don't want these restrictions, but surely they must need our help to see the issues involved.

There's another issue here and that's financial. The NFL realizes that it may start to lose viewers and interest if players are brain damaged or crippled by these hits.

posted by cjets at 02:07 PM on October 21, 2010

Couldn't there be some solution along the lines of "If you lead with your head and cause a concussion that removes the hit-ee from the game, you have to sit out as well" or something along those lines? You'd have to have an independent doctor on hand to do a concussion evaluation, I'm guessing. I'm sure a policy would have to be way more specific than I'm getting here but, I think it would encourage more actual tackling than just hitting. And really, the decline in tackling seems, to me anyway, to be an underlying issue here (I'm a Bengals fan so I know all about the decline in tackling).

posted by srw12 at 04:11 PM on October 21, 2010

According to Channing Crowder, this is just more evidence that the NFL only cares about offensive players. It would be interesting to find out if there is a discrepancy in opinion between Offensive & Defensive players (assuming confidentiality of course).

posted by brainofdtrain at 12:46 AM on October 22, 2010

What you got against a Kent State education?!

Nothing, my sister and girlfriend have one, but they are not making 50 million

posted by Debo270 at 08:36 AM on October 22, 2010

Go watch a rugby game some time. They need to get those coaches over here to teach how to tackle someone the right way. Those guys kill each other. No one leads with their head!!

posted by Debo270 at 08:37 AM on October 22, 2010

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