Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How's that again?

Well, it looks as though the National Football League will take steps to crack down on what has been an epidemic of sensational (for TV) hits that cause serious injuries such as concussions.

And if you don't think concussions are serious injuries, you haven't been paying attention.

NFL vice president of football operations Ray Anderson has announced the league will take immediate steps to penalize heavily those players who persist in using their helmets as weapons.

"We've got to get the message to players that these devastating hits and head shots will be met with a very necessary higher standard of accountability," said Anderson, "We have to dispel the notion that you get a free pass in these egregious or flagrant shots."

All well and good except for one important item.

In Sunday's loss in Pittsburgh, Steelers linebacker James Harrison nailed the Browns' Joshua Cribbs with a direct helmet-to-helmet hit while Cribbs was running the ball on a play out of the wildcat formation. It was brutal, devastatingly flagrant and knocked Cribbs out of the game with a concussion.

Shockingly, the NFL did not see that hit as flagrant or dirty. It was, according to a league spokesman, quite legal because "helmet contact on a running play is not illegal."

Huh!! On all other plays it's legal, but not on running plays? What makes that any different? Where is the distinction?

That should make no difference whatsoever. Helmet-to-helmet hits should be outlawed regardless of where they occur or when they occur. Cribbs was in the grasp of another Pittsburgh defender and defenseless when struck from the blind side by Harrison's crunching hit.

There should be a clear distinction. There should be no gray area that permits devastating hits on some plays and results in stiff penalties on other plays. It's bad enough for officials to interpret and call those penalties now. Why make it even more difficult?

Officials have the right to eject players for unnecessary roughness. Unfortunately, we see very few ejections. Maybe we'll see more now that the rapid rise in extreme violence has gotten the league's attention.

The trend toward extreme violence has been coming on for some time now as the league turned the other way when helmets were involved. It has turned the game, at least from a defensive standpoint, into legal thuggery.

Perhaps the league should have a sit-down with their coaches and make it clear to them that this part of the game will be cleaned up. Coaches such as Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, for example, who said after Harrison's hits on Cribbs and Mo Massaquoi, "They were legal hits. Not fineable. He played good football."

I wonder how he'd react if Steelers receivers Hines Ward and Mike Wallace had been laid out and concussed instead of two members of the opposition. It all depends on one's perspective.

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