This weekend, the fans in the National Football League were treated to one of the most brutal and deliberate series of helmet on helmet hits in recent memory. At a time when medical experts have conclusive evidence that these “ILLEGAL” hits could cripple someone, that the long term prognosis for those who suffer these hits is both degenerative and cumulative, there are those who believe this violent element of the game is in fact, what defines the game. Is this child’s game, played by some of the most superb athletes on the planet really nothing more than blood sport? Is this game so important that paralyzing or killing someone for the sheer sake of entertainment is an “Acceptable risk”?
The NFL Rulebook, which is, for the most part, merely a guideline for the geriatric and often confused NFL officiating corps, has the following:
“using any part of a players helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/hairline parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily; although such violent or unnecessary use of the helmet is impermissible against any opponent, game officials will give special attention in administering this rule to protect those players who are in virtually defenseless postures."
And just to make sure everyone knows the NFL means business, the league announced in 2007 that players would be ejected from games for these types of hits. To date, not one player has ever been ejected from an NFL game for this kind of hit. Rare in fact is the official that even calls a penalty on these plays.
Caught completely by surprise from the outpouring of criticism over the viciousness of the hits, the spin doctors at the NFL have announced a new policy and it is even better than the 2007 changes. The NFL owners have announced that from now on, helmet to helmet hits or felonious assault as it generally known in the penal codes, “Might could maybe result in a suspension…. sometimes”. The league, ever mindful of the entertainment value of these vicious and illegal hits, has even taken the extraordinary step of instructing all those old guys who officiate the games to maybe, in some instances, when the game isn’t on the line, actually call a personal foul on the offending player and in rare instances, in special circumstances the player guilty of one of these vicious hits should be ejected from the game. No one is sure what these special circumstances are as to date, no one has ever actually been ejected from an NFL game for one of these cheap shots. About the only “special circumstances” the experts seem to agree should result in an ejection: if someone hits Payton Manning.
For some reason, the experts at ESPN and Sports Illustrated have tucked their heads into their collective asses and refuse to look at this situation from the “big picture”. What is the big picture you might well ask? The NFL Owners association is an oligarchy composed of some very old, wealthy white men or the next of kin of some formerly old, wealthy, and now dead white men. As such, the NFL epitomizes the Good ol’Boy network that every pseudo capitalist in these United States aspires to. It is the closest thing to American royalty for those who lack the ability to play polo and who aren’t married to a first cousin. Encompassing all the pomp and pageantry of Ancient Rome, the National football League has constructed its own world replete with Coliseums, courtesans, gladiators, entertainers, and at least one jester named Roger Goodell, who obviously serves some purpose but no one is sure exactly what that is. But it is the gratuitous violence that the owners barter in, the officials carefully cultivate, the media feeds on, and the NFL fastidiously avoids criticizing. Business is business no matter how many young kids get crippled in the process. Sadly, this simply won’t change.
Fact is, lard asses like ESPN analyst Matt Millen couldn’t make an NFL team today as the players are bigger, stronger, faster, and the game is simply played on a different level than in Matt’s day. Every Sunday, a host of NFL analysts make this same point incessantly: the better the quarterback, the more versatile the offense. Better running backs open up the passing game. The better receivers can run better routes, opening up the things an offense can do. Huge defensive linemen have developed spin moves and bull rushes all designed to take advantage of skills that weren’t in the game just a few short years ago. Defenses have hundreds of formations that only work when the talent is there. Conversely, the one ding on every team not playing well: they don’t have the “talent” or in the case of the Dallas Cowboys, they are underachieving. In the NFL talent should trump nearly everything else and cheap shots have but one goal: eliminate the talent of an opposing team. It is the one thing completely overlooked in this discussion: The game should change to showcase the speed, agility, strength and enhanced and evolving skills of the athletes. The Colt’s Pierre Garcon made an absolutely fantastic catch in Sunday’s game that has been all but lost in the media hoopla surrounding all the cheap shots.
For the first time in recent memory, the NFL has some highly skilled athletes of what could be termed average size that are nothing short of an inspiration for the rest of us. What purpose is served when a troglodyte like James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers unloads a cheap shot on one of these talented players and injures the player? Does the game get better when talented players are injured? If Harrison’s cheap shots as Millen state “are part of the game” and acceptable, what stops a coach from simply taking out the star players of the other team on the first play? Millen played defense in the NFL and he knows what head hunting is and he knows it goes on in the NFL. This can easily be changed by simply altering the coaching methods and playing to the talents of the players. The untalented seek to neutralize the skills of the opposing players by the simple expedient of injuring them. To these players, the game has all the allure of a drive by shooting. Millen doesn’t wish to elevate the game, he wishes to decimate his opponents to neutralize their skill not through superior play, but by intimidation and cheap shots. No doubt clever tactics in a bar fight but hard to justify to fans being charged $200 for a cheap seat at an NFL Game. If Millen’s results with the Detroit Lions can be used as a barometer, his “Philosophy” wasn’t what could be termed an unqualified success.
Steve Young’s oft repeated criticism of young, inexperienced quarterbacks putting their receivers at risk throwing the ball into “dangerous” places is disingenuous and counter intuitive. Come on Man, the only reason a quarterback shouldn’t throw the ball into these places is because of all the head hunting going on. Eliminate the cheap shots and you open up the game making it more entertaining and less dangerous. The medical community has the evidence that these cheap shots have long term effects. Every Sunday on every sideline in the NFL there are players sitting out due to concussion. This does not make the NFL better and it isn’t advantageous to the players. It can be changed and it starts with the coaches and players. Techniques, many that require exceptional skill can be developed that minimize the danger. And while some dangerous situations are unavoidable and unfortunate, it is in everyone’s best interest to limit these as much as possible. If the NFL runs true to form, there will no doubt be some knee jerk reaction that will be quickly forgotten and two weeks from now, James Harrison and Brandon Merriweather will be right back to their old tricks.