It seems that time for change has come.
The 2010 season is the year of the concussion. There has never been this much focus on the effects brain injuries have on players. Researchers are just now beginning to see the long-term effects from these concussions, and it isn’t pretty. And while the league already has rules in place to protect defenseless players – mainly, receivers running over the middle – players are still getting walloped with helmet-to-helmet hits that often leave them lying motionless on the field.
In past years, it seemed these hits would happen every so often. It wasn’t every weekend where you would see players getting carted off the field on a backboard. This past weekend was different, however. I can’t remember when I saw so many violent hits. Ravens tight end Todd Heap took a terrible hit from Brandon Meriweather. Two Cleveland players were knocked out of the game with head injuries. Perhaps the worst hit of the weekend was when Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson and Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson collided head-to-head and neither one looked like they were going to get up. It was a frightening weekend of concussions that nobody, not even those who love the violence of the game, could watch.
So on Tuesday, the NFL decided to crack down even more and announced that instead of just fining players, the league will immediately begin suspending players for those flagrant and violent helmet-to-helmet hits.
“We’ve got to get the message to players that these devastating hits and head shots will be met with a vary necessary higher standard of accountability,” Ray Anderson, vice president of football operations, told the Associated Press Tuesday. “We have to dispel the notion that you get one free pass in these egregious or flagrant fouls. There are folks that understand that football is a physical game. Part of the enjoyment is that some of the violence is appealing. That has to be the violence within the rules.”
I have always liked to see big hits in a game. I think most people who enjoy the game of football do. To see some tight end go over the middle catch a ball and then get immediately dropped by a crossing defender is exciting. It’s even better if they hang on to the ball and pop up like the hit meant nothing. That’s good football. But when we see three or four violent hits that actually knock players out, it’s a different story. It’s not the kind of thing we want to watch on a Sunday afternoon.
I hope the league’s crackdown will work. A lot of defenders, it seems, will tell you that they set $40,000 or $50,000 aside every year to cover the fines they receive from their violent helmet-to-helmet hits. The fines aren’t so much as a penalty for these players as they are a bank-account nuisance. They have the money; it doesn’t much matter.
Now, with the possibility of suspension in place, I do believe these players are going to think twice before they launch their helmet into a receiver’s facemask. No player can stand to sit out a game. It hurts them – as well as the entire team. Before, coaches probably didn’t have much to say about a player knocking a receiver out violently. Besides the 15-yard penalty, the coach couldn’t care less about any fines a player receives. Now, the coach will care, as well. Losing a player in a tight race to the playoffs because of a violent hit is just unacceptable.
I do hope this will cut down on the number of violent hits. First, none of us want to see these players injured for the rest of their lives because of one violent hit over the middle. Nobody wants that. Second, I don’t think any fan of football wants to see any more rule changes to will protect the receivers. The league is already too receiver-friendly. You can’t so much breath on a receiver and not get a flag thrown on you for pass interference, nowadays.
If the violence in the game of football continues to intensify and the rules of the game have to be changed drastically, at what point will we all take a step back and decide that it isn’t football anymore?
Here’s to hoping we don’t see a whole lot more of those violent hits – for the players and for the game.