Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The NFL's "Egregious" Discipline

Before I begin, I want to make a few points perfectly clear:

  1. I do believe that concussions are a very serious matter,
  2. I don't condone players being intentionally violent,
  3. I do believe player safety is the most important focus in football.
Now having said that--the National Football League is out of line and highly irresponsible in its handling of penalties/suspensions. Enforcement of the rules is a problem. Clarification of what is against the rules is an even bigger issue.

From childhood, every offensive football player is told to get their pads low, because whoever has the lower center of gravity is the least likely to get blown up on a play. Basically, "put your facemask in the defender's chest and run through him."

This week, Baltimore Ravens' safety Ed Reed was suspended (now uplifted and turned into a $50,000 fine) for his hit on Emmanuel Sanders of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sanders caught the ball, turned upfield, and collided with Ed Reed in a big hit. Reed was penalized on the play, and he knew the fine was unfortunately coming. What he didn't expect was his suspension for being a "repeat offender."

Replay shows that Reed/Sanders did butt heads during the hit; but it also shows that the contact was incidental. Reed was going at Sanders' shoulders, and Sanders turned and ducked to get lower against Reed. Now in less than half of a step, Reed was expected to adjust further so as not to hit Sanders' helmet. It's physically impossible.

The league expressed their wishes that defensive players are solely responsible for fixing this issue, but how? If in a split second a guy gets lower than anticipated, you're going to knock helmets. So does Reed have to dive at Sanders' waist?

A defensive player with HIS facemask at a players' waist is exposing himself to the risk of spinal injury if his neck bends awkwardly. If his head is down, he may be less at risk of his head snapping back but more at risk of sideways jarring or jamming the spinal column (think Kevin Everrett).

Again, I am in no way trying to downplay concussions. They're severe, and possibly far worse than we've ever imagined. But it's clear to me that a lawsuit about providing funds to take care of retired players dealing with the effects of concussions is more important to the league, than actual player safety. And quite frankly, if I were involved with the league, I think I would prefer a player having a concussion to a player having a broken neck/spine/paralysis/death.

I don't want to see flag football, and I also don't want to see concussions galore. But I believe the league has to identify what it expects even more, and take every detail into consideration. Too many of these helmet-to-helmet hits are incidental contact where nothing can be done to prevent it. A defender gets low, the ball-carrier gets lower, and there's a headbutt. Hardly the defender's fault, so why is it their responsibility?