The National Football League and hard hitting – it’s all about the money
Hard hitting football – is that not what the National Football League is about? Do tens of millions of football fans watch NFL football Sunday’s because of “Hard hitting football”? What is and is not legal hitting in the NFL has become an issue following two decisions NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made this week. Are Goodell and the Lords of the Pigskin right or wrong in the two announcements the league made this week?
The NFL announced Tuesday that three players – Pittsburgh’s James Harrison ($75,000), New England’s Brandon Meriweather ($50,000) and Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson ($50,000) – have been fined a total of $175,000 for flagrant violations of player safety rules.
The fines were issued by NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson. In letters to each player, Anderson said, “Future offenses will result in an escalation of fines up to and including suspension.”
In the second quarter of Pittsburgh’s game against Cleveland, Harrison unnecessarily struck a defenceless receiver in the head and neck area. That action violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (g) of the NFL Official Playing Rules, which states that it is unnecessary roughness if the initial force of the contact by a defender’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of a defenceless receiver who is catching or attempting to catch a pass. Anderson added that the action also violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (h) of the NFL Official Playing Rules, which states that if a receiver has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself, a defensive player is prohibited from launching (springing forward and upward) into him in a way that causes the defensive player’s helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm to forcibly strike the receiver’s head or neck area – even if the initial contact of the defender’s helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm is lower than the receivers neck.
Anderson noted that Harrison is a repeat offender, having been fined $5,000 for unnecessary roughness (roughing the passer) in Pittsburgh’s September 19 game against Tennessee. These are the first violations for unnecessary roughness this season for Meriweather and Robinson.
In the second quarter of New England’s game against Baltimore, Meriweather unnecessarily struck an opponent in the head area with his helmet. Additionally, in the third quarter, Meriweather unnecessarily struck an opponent in the head and neck area. Those actions violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (f) of the NFL Official Playing Rules, which states that it is unnecessary roughness if a player uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/“hairline” parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily.
In the second quarter of Atlanta’s game against Philadelphia, Robinson unnecessarily struck a defenceless receiver. That action violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (g) of the NFL Official Playing Rules, which states that it is unnecessary roughness if the initial force of the contact by a defender’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of a defenceless receiver who is catching or attempting to catch a pass.
Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the league was taking what league officials believe are necessary steps to protect players from what they believe are dangerous hits. Goodell who has been a very proactive commissioner sent a memo to each of the leagues players, team coaches and team officials
Goodell notified teams that more significant discipline, including suspensions, will be imposed on players that strike an opponent in the head or neck area in violation of the rules.
A memo to the clubs from Commissioner Goodell was accompanied by a message and video to NFL players and coaches. The head coach of each club has been instructed to show the video and read the message to his players and coaching staff as soon as possible. The video includes examples of illegal hits and legal hits under NFL rules.
“One of our most important priorities is protecting our players from needless injury,” Commissioner Goodell said. “In recent years, we have emphasized minimizing contact to the head and neck, especially where a defenceless player is involved. It is clear to me that further action is required to emphasize the importance of teaching safe and controlled techniques, and of playing within the rules. It is incumbent on all of us to support the rules we have in place to protect players.”
The enhanced discipline will be imposed even in cases of a first offense, including the possibility of suspension for first-time offenders, the clubs were told.
Following is the message to be read to all coaches and players:
TO NFL PLAYERS AND COACHES:
One of our highest priorities is player safety. We all know that football is a tough game that includes hard contact. But that carries with it an obligation to do all that we can to protect all players from unnecessary injury caused by dangerous techniques from those who play outside the rules.
The video shown today shows what kind of hits are against the rules, but also makes clear that you can play a hard, physical game within the rules.
Violations of the playing rules that unreasonably put the safety of another player in jeopardy have no place in the game and that is especially true in the case of hits to the head and neck. Accordingly, from this point forward, you should be clear on the following points:
1. Players are expected to play within the rules. Those who do not will face increased discipline, including suspensions, starting with the first offense.
2. Coaches are expected to teach playing within the rules. Failure to do so will subject both the coach and the employing club to discipline.
3. Game officials have been directed to emphasize protecting players from illegal and dangerous hits, and particularly from hits to the head and neck. In appropriate cases, they have the authority to eject players from a game.
Reaction to the two decisions has been “interesting”.
Chicago Bears LB Brian Urlacher, one of the leagues marquee players told the Chicago Tribune: “"It's freaking football. There are going to be big hits. I don't understand how they can do this after one weekend of hitting. And I can't understand how they can suspend us for it. I think it's a bunch of bull(crap).
"You know what we should do? We should just put flags on everybody. Let's make it the NFFL — the National Flag Football League. It's unbelievable.''
"There was one bad hit this past weekend: the Meriweather hit,'' Urlacher said."The other two hits were legal hits. Robinson had a great hit. They were both running full-speed.”
Steelers LB James Harrison, fined $75,000 by Goodell was furious, angry and frustrated – all at the same time. When he was told he would be fined $75,000 Harrison suggested he had had enough and he was ready to quit playing football and retire from the game.
"I really truly hope it's something that can be done," Harrison told Fox Sports Radio. "But the way that things were being explained to me today and the reasoning for it, I don't feel I can continue to play and be effective and, like I say, not have to worry about injuring someone else or risking injury to myself."
Harrison told Fox Sports Radio that he was trying to hit Massaquoi in the mid-section, but that the receiver lowered his body at the last second, which led to the Steelers defender hitting him near the head.
"I'm going to sit down and have a serious conversation with my coach and see if I can actually play by NFL rules and still be effective," Harrison told Fox. "If not, I may have to give up playing football.”
"My opinion is, play the game like the game like is supposed to be played and whatever happens, happens," 15 year NFL veteran Ray Lewis told the USA Today after the NFL fined three players for violent hits, including one by New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather that concussed Ravens teammate Todd Heap.
"If you go into the game thinking about any of that stuff, I'm telling you, the game will be diluted very quickly. … You look at the (Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James) Harrison hit (on Cleveland's Mohamed Massaquoi), you look at all these hits and whatever they may be, the bottom line is, you go into your defensive (meeting) room (and) you're getting praised for them because that's the way the game of football's supposed to be played."
Lewis, an 11 time Pro Bowler is reputed to be one of the hardest hitters in the NFL – a player who has earned tens of millions of dollars in large part because he hit other NFL players as hard as he did.
"You can't think about it," the Ravens' leading tackler (50) added. "I don't care if it's a fine or a suspension or whatever, because if you do (think about it) you get yourself in trouble. That's like going on the field and worrying about an injury; if you worry about it, you're gonna get hurt and not gonna play the best way you know how to play football."
"As a defender, you're not thinking about that line," he said. "You're thinking if somebody's getting ready to touch that ball, they gotta get dealt with. That's the way I've played the game since the beginning, the way I've watched the game since the beginning and no matter what they try to do, that part of the game can't change. The game is called tackling and hitting and that part will never change.
"The game is way too fast and you just never know what's gonna happen in between a play, and that's why you just gotta play it out. You can't think about it, you can't hesitate about it, you just gotta play it and not worry about what the league is saying.
"Whatever the league's gonna do, they gonna do, man.
What makes the leagues thinking curious to say the least is a report from ProFootballtalk.com, a suggestion that in no uncertain terms the NFL is actively marketing the so-called vicious hitting the league is now condemning.
According to PFT: photos available at the "NFL Photo Store" included an image of Steelers linebacker James Harrison's hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather's hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap.
ReplayStore.com holds a license to sell photos from NFL games and placed what they believed were NFL sanctioned photos of the hits the league had fined players for Tuesday.
"We regret the mistake," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail to PFT. "The photos will be taken down and we will ensure that no photos of illegal plays will be available again. An outside vendor uses an automated process to post photos for sale to fans. We will fix the process immediately."
Fix the process immediately? That may be fine but at the least the NFL should rescind the fines levelled at players whom the league intended to profit over by allowing the pictures to be published for resale.
Former NFL offensive lineman Mark Schlereth appearing on ESPN called it as he saw it.
"Too bad the acronym NHL has been taken because we could call (the NFL) the 'National Hypocrite League,' " Schlereth said, as he held up an image of a DVD called "Moment of Impact" that the NFL was selling on its website.
"The NFL sells it, and to take away $75,000 from a player who's just playing is ludicrous to me." Schlereth added he thought fining Pittsburgh Steelers LB James Harrison $75,000 was a "criminal" move by the NFL.
Schlereth added, "We glorify these hits. We make money on these hits. That's what we do, and the NFL profits on that."
"You can't take the NFL and what we do and eliminate contact," he said. "The game of football is about going out there and separating the man from the ball. Going out there and playing hard. It's reaction. The players are so fast, so big and so strong. It happens in a moment's notice. It's not like players are saying, 'Watch me try to decapitate someone.'"
The NFL, Schlereth said, was built upon the fans interest in contact. "You take all the contact away, guess what you are... you're soccer," he said.
Schelerth went as far to suggest that players in this week's Sunday or Monday night games play "touch football."
"Go out on the field and don't hit anybody," he said, "and let's see how popular your game is."
Was Roger Goodell a hypocrite? Is the NFL overreacting? A sampling of current and former NFL players suggests that may be the case. However while in no way suggesting whether or not Goodell was right or wrong, it is very important to fully appreciate the context of Goodell and the NFL’s decision making process.
Football is a violent game, a sport were a young man’s life can take a tragic turn in one moment of time. One such moment in time took place Saturday afternoon.
Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed below the neck after making a tackle during a game against Army, late in the fourth quarter on Malcolm Brown during a kickoff return after Rutgers had tied the game at 17.
The New Jersey resident who played at Colonia High School — just 15 minutes from Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway — appeared to duck his head while making the hit.
The junior lay on the turf for at least 5 minutes while medical and emergency personnel treated him and players on both teams took a knee and watched.
LeGrand remains paralyzed below the neck and his life forever changed. There are no words that can add any comfort to what Eric and his family will have to live with for the rest of Eric’s and their lives. Did Eric know the risk he took everyday that he played football – hopefully.
What happened to Eric LeGrand had to be on the minds of every NFL player, coach and official. What happened to Eric LeGrand had to be in the thoughts of every media person who reported on NFL games on Sunday. The prayers and thoughts of everyone are with Eric and his family. Eric LeGrand played football with the intensity that earned the respect of his teammates, his coaches and his opponents. Indeed his destiny may have been to play on Sundays. While Eric has not spoken to the media since his horrific accident, Eric’s reaction to the NFL decision on what the league is calling vicious hits would be enlightening, informative and interesting.
For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Profootballtalk.com and CBC.ca