Antonio Smith of the Houston Texans recent one game suspension for the removal of a helmet and attempt at using it for some sort of a weapon is simply put the NFL's only option for recent decisions in other incidents.
It is a decision that had to be handed down simply because the NFL, which was at one time labeled the No Fun League, has now begun venturing down a path of weakness. Recent lawsuits involving former players for lingering issues steming from years of brutal contact are just the tip of the iceberg.
"The players are claiming that the NFL knew that concussions caused depression, dementia and other neurological problems but concealed the information from them while promoting and glorifying the violence of the game. The players and their lawyers use words such as "fraud" and "cover-up" to describe the conduct of the league and its executives, and they seek public jury trials to examine the league's conduct and to determine what the league owes them in monetary damages. If the players are right, their claims could cost the NFL billions of dollars". OTL ESPN April 9
Concussions are a serious issue. Injuries are serious. Torn ligaments, turf toe and broken fingers are all part of the brutality.
The NFL is literally in damage control mode today, and fines are now being issued for the slightest hint of excessive play.
On August 28, 1978- the world saw first hand what exactly is so brutal about the NFL when New England Patriot wide receiver Darryl Stingley was hit by Oaklnad Raider Jack Tatum. Its an image that was replayed endlessly and to this day is often depicted when the concussion lawsuit topic arises.
And in recent days Houston defensive back DJ Swearinger ended the season of Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller. The play was a simple catch of around 10 yards, Keller reaching for the ball, and Swearinger delivering the usual low hit that many if not all players utilize when making a tackle on a tight end or running back. Keller suffered season ending knee damage as a result.
It mattered not that DJ Swearinger offered an apology and explanation:
"With the rules in this era you've got to hit low. If I would have hit him high, I would have gotten a fine. So I think I made the smartest play. I'm sorry it happened and I pray he has a speedy recovery. ... Right now it's just instinct. You see somebody come across the middle, you gotta go low. You're going to cost your team 15 yards."
The matter became blurred when Keller's teammate Brian Hartline not only questioned the integrity of Swearinger's gesture but rebutted as to the reasoning for going "low".
While severe in nature, concussions have led to a softening approach to the entire game,the violence aspect of it and general play itself. There is a massive grey area now that appears in no way of being reversed.
Thank you very much Roger Goodell. In November of 2012, before a small group at Harvard University, Goodell said this about injuries:
"The simple truth is that any physical activity comes with risk and reward. Head injuries occur in sports. Earlier this month, many of the world’s top sports concussion experts convened in Zurich, Switzerland. It is the leading conference on concussion in sport. In attendance were experts from the International Olympic Committee, international soccer (or as they say “football”), rugby, equestrian competition, Australian Rules Football and many other sports, including the NFL. The chief medical officer of the international soccer federation noted that 300 million people around the world play soccer. Concussions are hardly an issue limited to football or the NFL."
Goodell is no dummy. He knows all to well the nature of the NFL. And speaking at Harvard or before any group will never convince any player that his chosen profession is anything but rough and comes with setbacks,today or years down the road. The problem is the overreaching into the actual field of play by setting forth fines and tweeking kickoffs to touchbacks is unprecedented in sports and detrimental to the game of professional football. And equally devestating is going before panels of students or faculty members of universities, or boards of health professionals or even a local high school. It serves no purpose and offers only fuel to those that deem the NFL a dark area in the culture of America.
"Untough" the NFL?
It's the equal to telling pitchers who have developed a great skill from their early years as a little leaguer to slow their fastball down.
Or suggesting to a kid on the court to no longer shoot his three pointers he can easily make shot after shot.
The line has now become so blurred that a divide is happening between the players themselves today- case in point Hartline's comments.
Defensive players have no idea how to perform anymore. If he goes to high when making a play, an illegal hit can not only be deemed and penalized, but in a few days he could be fined and suspended for a flagrant act.
Now, it is being determined that a player going low to make a play is a penalty.
How soon before Calvin Johnson comes across the middle and takes a shot from Jarrett Bush of the Packers and he deems it was flagrant, begins waving his arms in disgust and see's a flag thrown out of weakness from a ref? Offensive players now have a green light to protest.
The NFL has its hands full, no doubt. And no person wants to see players suffer at any point in his career-or years later.
Junior Seau was a beloved player at USC and with San Diego. His style of play and lethal approach of delivering hits led to his demise. He pronounced himself as well with sack dances no matter the blow he delivered on quarterbacks. He knew his limitations but his ceiling was more rewarding even if he never received a penny. Junior loved the game and the way he played it and so did millions.
A tragic result.
Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears equally suffered late in life and eventually took his own life as well.
In the aftermath of Seau's loss his family issued a statement:
"We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior. But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations."
This is admirable.
But it's not practical, sadly. Was Seau deceived? Are we to understand Junior never approached the game to not only play with intensity, but when possible inject chaos and deliver crushing blows?
For many years players are developed early on and have instilled in them that the game of football is tough and is not for everyone, its a simple choice that could be extinguished by parents at an early age.
And when kids get older, the responsibility shifts to them.
At what price are they willing to endure the barbarian style of play that the NFL brings? It's a question but only a limited number of gifted men can answer.
The NFL should look into helmet safety. Develop mouthpieces that absolve bone jarring hits. Introduce shoulder pads and thigh pads that cushion blows. Look into upgrades in stadiums that offer outdated turf that impact players when thrown to the surface.
And they should without a doubt issue fines for late flagrant hits in the field of play and beyond. Late hits, not timely hits.
What the NFL should refrain from is tweeking or diminishing the actual game itself. Blurring the lines between illegal hits or legal hits is a huge mistake and will litterally become a black eye for a sport built solely on players sporting blackeyes the next day as part of the game.
And what will happen without a doubt is players and families will begin suing the NFL for any hit the player ever received. They will point out it is why the player suffers now-regardless of its level of intensity.
What has transpired over the last year with potential lawsuits stemming from something that happened years prior in a players career may be a bridge to far crossed already. Its now deemed the NFL has known all along as far back as when Paul Tagliabue was head of the NFL. Its led to where we are today with the Keller injury.
It may be sooner than later that tackling to hard will become a rules infraction. It was only a few days ago we learned a low hit was flagrant.
Imagine what will transpire next week.
Skirts soon optional, in the Nancy Football League.