Posts Tagged ‘James Harrison’

Everybody play nice!

August 24, 2011 Leave a comment

How rule changes are hurting the game of football

By: Aaron Watson

The NFL is at it again this season. To protect the health of players the NFL has fundamentally changed the way the game is played on the field. Rules adopted to protect defenseless players, to define acceptable contact, and to limit collisions on kickoff returns have all been enacted to preserve the health of players. And mainly to protect offensive skill players. You know, the ones who are the face of the league. The cash cows, as it were.

The question is no longer whether or not the NFL is trying to make the game softer. They are, even if they don’t phrase it  that way in a nationwide press release. We already have quarterbacks  treated differently than any other players on the field. You can’t tackle  them low. You can’t tackle them high. And if you’re Ndamukong Suh,  you can’t push them down from behind either.

Receivers were added to the fold last year as protected players, with  defenders no longer able to touch them above the shoulders until they  can defend themselves (and even then you better not get close to their  helmet when making the tackle, even as they lower their heads to brace  for impact or dive head first towards the endzone!).

Returners and members of the kickoff and return team are the newest  group added to the “protected” group, although they are being  protected against their will. Due to gruesome injuries sustained over the  last few years both in college and the NFL, league officials have moved  the kicking team up 5 yards and made touchback percentages shoot  higher than Tom Brady’s completion percentage.

No, the question isn’t whether or not the NFL is going soft, the question is whether or not it is worth it. And in my mind, the answer should be a resounding no.

The fact is you can’t legislate injuries out of a collision sport without changing the sport. And little by little, that is what the NFL is doing.

Let’s be clear, I think spearing and launching your body head first at a receiver is a bad idea, and should be eliminated from the game. Deliberate helmet to helmet contact like that has no place in football. But having a defender penalized and fined for hitting a receiver with his shoulder pad is just ridiculous, no matter where he hits them.

Take this hit by James Harrison. In the replay the receiver is hit in the helmet with the shoulder of the defender, dislodging the ball and creating a positive play for the defense. The receiver also can be seen lowering his head to brace for the hit, which in essence leads to the contact to the head to begin with. As ferocious as this hit is, it shouldn’t be illegal.

In this instance, another problem can be found with the new set of rules. On the play, RB Willis McGahee appears to lower and turn his head after safety Ryan Clark has already turned his body low for the hit. Their helmets collide, but it is the action of McGahee that causes that contact, not the hitting position of Clark. Luckily the NFL got this one right and didn’t fine Clark, but that is a rarity.

Or this hit once again by NFL bad boy James Harrison. Josh Cribbs is clearly a runner and hasn’t been tackled when the Steelers linebacker plows through him with his helmet. Now before I continue, please understand that the head is connected to the shoulders via the neck, and there is no human way to eliminate the head from potentially making contact with a player. Proper tackling form is to put your head on the ball or on one side of the ball carriers body while driving through him with your shoulder pad. This works great when the running back doesn’t move! Unfortunately for Harrison, Cribbs is spun around and has his head lowered as the tackle is being made.

A similar play occurs in this video. The difference being that the back is 260 pounds and the defender just bounces off him. But apparently we need not protect defenders, only skill position players who get lit up or quarterbacks who make all the money.

In essence, the NFL seems content to change the nature of the game to protect their investment by keeping players healthy, even at the expense of the competitive nature of the game. Kickoffs have essentially been rendered useless and will soon be seen as comparable in boringness to the riveting extra point attempt. It turns out watching a player take a knee isn’t compelling entertainment.

More specifically, the rule changes seem to indicate that the NFL is simply asking players to play nice; to respect one another enough to not hit as hard or be as violent. And while that might reduce injuries as players are fined and suspended until they change their nature, it destroys the purity of the game by reducing the competitive fire and fearsome antics that makes certain players great.

Defenders like Ronnie Lott, Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Dick Butkis and Mike Singletary used fear and intimidation to impact the psyche of players even considering getting in front of them. It helped make them great and it helped make the game great.

And now to baby quarterbacks and receivers like the NFL does is slowly destroying how the game is respected. It’s not destroying interest, mind you, and that is why fans can and should expect a watered down product that caters to health more than competition.

And before you start telling me I sound obsessed with violence, please remember I didn’t invent the sport where the goal is to separate player from ball. But if you are going to create a sport where players are rewarded for knocking the ball out of the hands of the other player, then you should understand when fans get upset when their team is penalized for hitting hard. This isn’t ultimate Frisbee.

Aaron Watson saw his NFL career cut short when his pee wee coaches informed him he wasn’t very good. So he turned his attention to writing, studying journalism in college while blogging for several sporting blogs since 2005. He and his wife currently live in Richmond, VA, one of the worst sports towns in America despite the short lived hype during the Final Four. When he is not at the local sports bar pursuading the owners to put the Buccaneer or Gator game on the big screen, Aaron serves as the Director of Staff Development for TeenPact Leadership Schools, a non-profit training teens to impact their nation through government, business and ultimate frisbee. He has also stayed in Tim Tebow’s house.