The NFL announced today that players would be fined and suspended starting this weekend for head shots. First off, it seems that the NFL is an extremely reactionary league in that a few players got laid out on Sunday (including Todd Heap), and suddenly they’re concerned about safety. However, the league specifically said that there were no guidelines for this policy. Um, okay…thanks for the heads-up, I guess.
On Sunday night I attended the Redskins/Colts game at FedEx Field, prior to which the Redskins announced 62 former players to the crowd. As I cheered for the ones that I remembered from my own childhood, I couldn’t help but think that many of them would have been considered dirty players by today’s standards. They might as well take Sam Huff, Dick Butkis, and Lawrence Taylor (arguably the best defensive player in my lifetime) out of the hall of fame. Not to mention the Jack Lamberts, Jack Hams, and Ronnie Lott’s of the world. All of those guys would be on Roger Goodel’s hit list today, as would Alvin Walton, Monte Coleman, Dexter Manley, and Charles Mann (some of my favorite Redskins as a kid).
I’m not suggesting that the league shouldn’t try to protect players from injury. Furthermore, I would agree that a player that purposely tries to injure people has no place in football. However the problem with the NFL is that they can’t see the gray area between a rough play that occurs in the spirit of the game, and a dirty play. The Philadelphia Eagles had a guy in the late 1980’s and early ’90’s named Andre Waters, who earned the nickname “dirty Waters.” In my opinion, Waters was a dirty player because he purposely would try to knock people out of games. (It was his tackle of the L.A. Rams’ Jim Everett in 1988 which led to quarterbacks not being allowed to be hit below the waist while in the pocket.) However there’s a big difference between Waters and a guy like Haloti Ngata, who is a very clean player in my opinion.
I suppose that my point is that there’s going to be no distinction made between clean and dirty; if a hit involves a helmet, the guy will get suspended. Ultimately what’s going to happen is that guys are going to start missing tackles for fear of being suspended. Furthermore, do we honestly believe that guys like Ray Lewis won’t be given a closer look than others? Lewis is a hard hitter, a great tackler, and a great cover guy…but he’s not a dirty player. The fact is that the league won’t lose fans as a result of these regulations, but I have to wonder if they’re afraid of losing money. Is it possible that major NFL sponsors were going to pull their advertising for fear of being affiliated with such an organization where people routinely get injured. All organizations are paranoid about ticking off or losing sponsors, ad I would assume that the NFL is no exception. And here’s another thing; would Congress have gotten involved? They seem intent on involving themselves in baseball with regard to steroids, so who’s to say that they wouldn’t try to regulate how the NFL deals with head-to-head contact.
Ultimately, you can say that they should put dresses on these players, or any sort of cliche, however the fact remains that you can’t sterilize football and still have it be football. I would suspect that 95% of the players in the NFL aren’t out there to purposely hurt people. The fact remains that people do get injured. Maybe the NFL should concentrate on it’s looming labor issues as opposed to worrying about something like this, because otherwise we won’t even be able to argue about these issues next year at this time