There has been a lot of talk this week about the safety of NFL players by those who are administrators for the league. After four highly visible, devastating helmet to helmet hits this past weekend that resulted in concussions, it was decided today that there will be immediate fines and suspensions for such hits...even for first time offenders. This has, predictably, created an uproar among NFL commentators (many of them former players) and current players. Many of these former and current athletes believe that the rules changes that are being implemented today are going to cause the NFL to become "softer" and make guys "let up on their hits." They claim that this is antithetical to what football and the NFL is all about...and that is -- the goal for the defender is to try to separate the offensive player from the ball. This may be true, but some wiser heads are saying that the enforcement of the safety rules that are already in place concerning helmet to helmet hits is necessary for the short term and long term well-being of the players.
The NFL does have a problem. Players today are bigger, stronger and faster than those who played even ten years ago. When these guys collide with one another going umpteen miles per hour (which seems to have the impact of a car wreck, in my estimation), concussions continue to mount. In fact, there are twice as many concussions this year than there were at this same time last year. Those players who made the controversial plays this past Sunday, James Harrison of the Steelers, Brandon Merriweather of the Patriots and Dunta Robinson of the Falcons have been fined ($75,000, $50,000 and $50,000 respectively) by the league for their hits. They have complained that the penalties are unfair...in fact, Steelers linebacker, James Harrison, who has already had a reputation as a player with questionable tactics, has even hinted that he will retire rather than change his ways. (To this, I say -- go ahead and retire...perhaps this will make a contribution toward cleaning up the game). This is going to be a difficult process and it is a challenging and controversial subject...there can be no doubt. Yet, contrary to the fear-mongering, I do not believe that the purpose of the NFL higher-ups is to "soften" the game at all, but it is to take away that cheap shots that threaten players' careers...and to this, I applaud them. I want to see my favorite sport...and the favorite sport of millions of Americans...continue to grow and prosper. If this is going to take place, then there are going to have to be some necessary adjustments. I really hope that the leaders of the league do not disturb the integrity of the game, but they do need to keep their own integrity intact by making these necessary changes.