Let me make a couple things clear. First of all, I am not one of these nutcases who thinks football should go back to the days of leather helmets and limited padding. I am also never going to argue against severe penalties for hits to the head, regardless of the sport.
Needless to say, our brains are valuable and we have seen more and more the after effects of years of abuse to them in football players. The issue has become public, as it should have. Regardless of intent, hits to the head should be penalized.
That said, not all should be penalized equally. The guy who is lining a running back up for a hit and ends up hitting him in the head because he lowered his pad level should not be held to the same standard as the guy who turns himself into a missile and leads with his head with the intention of doing harm. The helmet is protection, not a weapon. Still, both players should be held accountable as some level.
All that said, the NFL is setting a dangerous precedent with its new “dangerous hits” policy. According the initial Associated Press report, “The NFL will immediately begin suspending players for dangerous and flagrant hits, particularly those involving helmets.”
As I said before, I get the part about protecting players’ heads. But the league is treading in some dangerous waters using objective terms like “dangerous” to describe actions that could lead to suspension.
Football is a dangerous game. Its violent nature makes it so. Players get hurt on a weekly basis and the cause is not only illegal hits. Players get concussions from banging their head off the turf after getting tackled legally. ACLs get blown out because another player falls over someone’s leg during a pile up at the goal line. Heck, Drew Bledsoe sheared a blood vessel in his chest after a completely legitimate hit. Football is a game build upon physical contact and violence. It’s the game’s major appeal. So what is dangerous? Or better yet, what is considered too dangerous?
The NFL did a disservice to its players by having a perceived kneejerk reaction to a weekend of bad hits. Some of them were flagrant, some of them were not. The real disservice is the fact that the league did not take the time to adequately define what a dangerous hit is, instead taking the “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” approach.
Football is a game that can’t be played at half speed or tentatively. Players who are taking pause on the field in order to determine whether or not the hit they may make might violate some ambiguous rule is dangerous in and of itself and could just as easily lead to injury.
In addition, it seems very convenient that at the same time that the league is looking to expand the schedule to 18 games, more rules are being enforced to protect players. The main grievance the NFLPA has had with the idea is the fact that it’s hard enough to stay healthy throughout at 16-game schedule. It seems more like the NFL saw an opportunity to implement a rule that will protect players, but more importantly, its own interests. The timing of such a rule change is curious and screams ulterior motives.
But regardless of whether the league’s intentions are pure or not, the rule change suggests that the NFL has lost sight of exactly what the game is. Football is a dangerous sport. When did everyone forget that?