Thursday, December 2, 2010

An Open Letter to the NFL

Dear NFL,

In the recent weeks, there has been an ongoing discussion regarding player safety and the often vicious hits which affect the preservation of that ideal.

Though you and I and the rest of the fans of the various NFL teams are no stranger to the hitting and brutality of football, it would seem that lately, the hits have been particularly disruptive to the "chi" of the game - at least from a fan's standpoint of the league's attitude on the matter.

After a particularly nasty weekend of hits, which included a jarring hit on Cleveland wideout Mohammad Massaquoi and a similarly-describable hit on DeSean Jackson of Philadelphia, things really kicked into high gear, resulting in the question "should severe hits be punished?"

This is a very touchy line to walk down. On the one hand, you don't want to seem insensitive to the potential impact these hits could have on the future of these players by ignoring them altogether. Therefore, some kind of action or response is almost necessary.

However, on the other hand, if you make the response too severe, you run the risk of setting a precedent, the return from which would be very difficult to negotiate. Because that is the danger with something so subjective as determining the severity of a hit in a game based on doing just that: Working for the greater good and damaging the founding principles at the same time.

So, you did the best you could to implement a "rule" on the fly by announcing that hefty fines and even suspensions would be handed down for what were considered to be blatantly vicious and potentially harmful hits on defenseless players (players without the ball, players who are away from the action of a play, etc). While many of us were (or still are) reluctant to agree with the decision, we moved on, determining that it wouldn't likely be much of an issue.

Fast forward to last weekend (week 12). In a game between the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Linebacker James Harrison was flagged with a roughing the passer penalty after tackling Ryan Fitzpatrick just as he threw the ball. The following day, it was announced that Harrison - who has been fined four times already this season, for a total of $100,000 ($25k apiece) - would be fined AGAIN for the hit he put on Fitzpatrick, bringing the total to $125,000 (which is more than I would make as an individual in 5 years).

Before I continue, I would like to take a moment to refresh your memory of what that hit looked like. You can see it HERE.

I'll give you a moment.

Now, I would like you to explain to me how Harrison - a former defensive player of the year - is expected to stop from tackling Ryan Fitzpatrick in what would likely amount to the less-than-one-second span of time between when he released the ball and Harrison actually makes contact? That would be like me walking out in front of an Amtrak train and 10 yards before it hits me, expecting it to stop.

Not only that, but Harrison planted his facemask in the chest of Fitzpatrick as he tackled him, discounting the idea that he lead with the crown of his helmet.

My problem with this is not the fact that Harrison is losing more money, because I'm sure the multi-million dollar contract he has isn't going to dry up from a few fines. My problem is the fact that more and more players are being flagged by what appear to be legal hits.

Here's a newsflash for you, NFL: Quarterbacks have pads too! I understand the idea is to protect them, but for goodness' sake, you're undermining every single defensive player by fining them whenever they hit someone hard. You're telling them that they don't know how to play the positions at which they have been cultivating their careers. In short, you are slapping every defensive player in the face when you fine one of them for an obviously legal hit.

Interestingly enough, however, it would seem that players aren't afraid of you fining them. In fact, one player - Ryan Clark, who is a teammate of Harrison's - said over his Twitter account that he and his teammates are going to hit even harder, since they're going to get fined either way.

New break: Steeler D will protest this Sunday in the wake of #92 latest fine by hitting harder and more vicious. Since they fine either way!

- Ryan Clark

Good. Perhaps this backfire will encourage you and your officials to take a step back and analyze what you and they can do to actually help the situation with illegal and flagrant hits. Because it has become obvious that the you are ill-prepared to actually address the issue, unless addressing it involves subjectively fining the hell out of players based on undefined rules (yes, I know there are rules for hits, but as far as doling out fines, no specifications have been expressly released as to how a fine will be determined). If these kinds of fines are the future of the NFL, I'd just assume it not come back after this season.

There may come a time where you will have to decide whether you want to invest in an actual solution for dirty hits or if you want to put a bandaid over a gaping wound and pretend that will fix it. So far, it doesn't look like the bandaid is working, and it's make you look bad, the players look stupid and the fans look pretty upset.


An NFL Fan

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