Posted by Dave Richard
I'm a lover of football. Fantasy Football is my beat, and I love it, but I also love the game the players play and have a profound respect for all the men who wear an NFL uniform. I appreciate football.
That said, seeing players get concussed left and right last Sunday was jarring. We'll see a few players suffer a concussion in a given week, but it seemed like there was one in every game in Week 6. The number of concussions and helmet-exploding tackles are a function of players being as athletic, fast and aggresive as ever.
The NFL announced Tuesday that players will immediately start getting suspended for illegal hits made on others (the word illegal is the key), a ruling that is not resonating well with many players. According to the NFL rule book that changed before this season, illegal hits are:
"[F]orcibly hitting the defenseless player's head, neck, or face, with the helmet or facemask, regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him; or lowering the head and violently or unnecessarily making forcible contact with the "hairline" or forehead part of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player's body; or, "launching" (springing forward an upward) into a defenseless player, or otherwise striking him in a way that causes the defensive player's helmet or facemask to forcibly strike the defenseless player's head, neck, or face -- even if the initial contact of the defender's helmet or facemask is lower than the defenseless player's neck."
The rule attempts to eliminate dirty and overly violent play from the game. With the long-term interests of the players' health and brains in mind, and from someone who doesn't play football for a living, it's a commendable move.
But ask anyone whose sole job is to keep players from advancing the football and they're unhappy, confused and above all angry. Many defensive players feel as if it's taking away from their ability to play football the way they were taught.
"Let me say I'm all for player safety," Bears strong safety Chris Harris told CBSSports.com on Tuesday, "but after this weekend I think the NFL has made a knee-jerk reaction. No one is trying to intentionally injure players. Inflict a little pain, yes. That's part of the game. It's freakin' football.
"I've always been taught to put my facemask on the numbers, old school football. They want (defensive players) to change overnight? It's impossible. This is a barbaric sport with a gladiator-like mentality. You know the risk you're taking when you sign this NFL contract, but you still choose to play. That's like people who smoke -- they know the risk of lung cancer but they still do it."
Harris, who was the most vocal about the rule change on Tuesday morning, said that in training camp he and his teammates were shown a video produced by the NFL of what is and what isn't an illegal hit. The video was seen in every camp by every player. Harris said it didn't change his attitude toward tackling, and the reality is that in a league driven by bottom-line results, defenders have a "by any means necessary" attitude when it comes to stopping a player.
"You have a split-second to react and make a decision on tackling," Harris said. "If my helmet makes contact, it's not on purpose, but as a defender my job is to get the ball carrier down. If I don't, I have coaches on my back for missing a tackle, and if you're not making tackles you will be released, plain and simple. I don't have enough time to worry about how I'm getting the ball carrier down. Try half-ass tackling Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson and see if you get them down. Hell, it's hard enough trying to get them down without thinking about trying to avoid helmet to helmet contact. The time you spend thinking, the ball carrier is by you."
Harris is miffed at the idea that he could be suspended for doing something that he's been trained to do. Moreover, he's been involved in collisions of his own that have left him buzzed. In Week 3 of this season he left the Bears' game vs. the Packers with what turned out to be a stinger, but Harris wrote on his blog, HitmanHarris.com (the name of the blog is not lost on us), that "one side of my body went numb for a moment."
The point is, everyone who plays football is at risk for concussions and serious head injuries. "It's the nature of the game," Harris said.
The alternatives to the NFL's rule change are equally troubling. They could stand pat and enforce a 15-yard penalty, which they've been doing so far this year. They've also been fining players as a deterrent. either of those have curbed the number of helmet-to-helmet hits. Suspensions takes the issue to the next level, and that will make some players -- some -- think twice before delivering a blow. In that case, the ruling is already working.
When asked if he had a solution of his own to this problem, Harris was blunt: "Nope, other than just do away with the game if it's all about player safety."
We know that's not going to happen. Whether or not this step by the NFL works, and what changes the NFL makes going forward, could change the course of the game -- for better or for worse.
Dave Richard doles out daily fantasy football advice for CBSSports.com -- follow him on Twitter if you're not already.