Day after day another NFL defensive player is fined for what the league’s new mantra has deemed an “illegal hit.” Growing frustration is mounting among writers, fans and players as it’s becoming clearer that there is no definitive line between a clean hit and a dangerous one.
The NFL wants you to believe that safety is its top priority and that these radical rule changes and dozens of fines will make a difference in the wellbeing of the players. While the absurd player comments (See: Harrison, James) and media lashings are plentiful, we’re missing the underlying reason of the new rules: the all-mighty dollar.
Defensive players come and go throughout the league. The skill positions are where the money is made. With increased awareness on concussion recovery, the NFL loses its marquee players for games at a time. We’ve seen concussions cut prolific careers short, including Hall of Famer Troy Aikman.
There is obviously nothing wrong with greater concern and treatment for post-concussion symptoms, but changing the way the game is played is not the way out of this mess. Athletes are getting bigger, faster and stronger every season. As the ability to inflict pain increases, our spinal structure and tolerance for hits doesn’t grow. This is the reason for more concussions and injuries, not dirty hits.
What the NFL is doing wrong however is placing the blame on players for their unique physical gifts. These are the same guys who have been taught their entire lives to ‘jack someone up.’ Now it’s time to reprogram their brains to play a new way?
Roger Goodell is not protecting the safety of his players as much as he’s protecting his prize investments. Major injuries to star quarterbacks, running backs or receivers are a financial blow to both the teams they play for and the league. Outside of the Jackson residence, no one in Minnesota is wearing a No. 7 jersey on Sundays. Local fans don’t buy tickets and casual fans don’t turn on Monday Night Football to watch Tavaris Jackson.
Go on YouTube and Marlon Pryor’s hit on Brett Favre last Sunday. Until the moment he struck Favre, he is being blocked – then held – by Steve Hutchinson. At no time did he have time to stop, think about the direction his helmet would land on Favre and put a “legal hit” on the ol’ gunslinger. Regardless if the hit was legal or not by the new standards, Pryor was simply doing his job like he would on any other play.
Therein lays the problem with the new system. We’re penalizing players for playing hard, for playing the way they’ve been taught since they were 12 years old.
That’s not going to fix the problem, Mr. Goodell. It’s only going to make them hit harder next time.