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National Columnist

NFL players need to start using their brains and stop aiming for the head

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Browns receiver Josh Cribbs lost his helmet on a head-shot hit against the Ravens. (Getty Images)  
Browns receiver Josh Cribbs lost his helmet on a head-shot hit against the Ravens. (Getty Images)  

The inherent violence of the NFL doesn't bother me. The threat of injury, even a serious one? Doesn't bother me. Those are the risks of playing football, a risk that increases at every level. By the time he reaches the NFL, a football player understands any game -- any play -- could be a life-changing catastrophe. If he can handle the NFL's accidental consequences, I can handle it too.

But the intent to hurt? The head-hunting? The disregard for life after football? Yeah, that's bothering me. It's in my head, what's happening to the concussed brains of players like Josh Cribbs and Darrius Heyward-Bey, but maybe I'm the only one. It sure doesn't seem to be in the heads of anybody on the actual field, where these fast-moving machines of bone, muscle and molded polycarbonate alloy -- the unforgiving material inside each heat-resistant, unbreakable NFL helmet -- are still bearing down on each other like this is a video game.

NFL players realize this isn't a video game, right?

So what's with all the head shots?

Used to be, a single hit resonated. In 1960 Chuck Bednarik demolished Frank Gifford, leaving Gifford motionless on the field, knocked out cold. In 1964 legendary Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle endured a beating from the Steelers that left him on his knees, helmet off, blood trickling down his face.

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Both happened nearly 50 years ago.

And then both happened in the past few weeks. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub endured a beating from the Broncos that left him on his knees, helmet off, blooding trickling down his face. Elsewhere, Ravens defender Dannell Ellerbe demolished Cleveland's Josh Cribbs, leaving him motionless on the field, knocked out cold.

It doesn't resonate anymore -- it just happens again the following week. The violence, the physicality crossing over to cruelty, seems worse than ever. Every week, a game (or more) is stopped while players from both teams take a knee in prayer while an injured player lies on the field.

And these are not accidental head shots. On the Cribbs hit, Ellerbe looks like he's taking batting practice against a softball that is Josh Cribbs' head. Watch that video closely. Ellerbe follows through with his elbow, extending it after the hit like a slugger following through on a baseball swing. He wasn't trying to tackle somebody -- he was trying to hurt somebody. That's how it looks to me, and if that's not how it looks to you, I would ask you to look at it again.

That hit by Broncos linebacker Joe Mays on Schaub ... it was willful and stupid, like a truck trying to run down a deer. Look at that thing. Mays comes off the edge untouched, giving him that fabled free shot at the quarterback, and he lumbers in without any pretense: He's going for the head, and he gets it. Off comes Schaub's helmet. Off comes part of Schaub's ear.

Minus the blood, that Mays-Schaub hit looked like what happened Sunday when Packers linebacker Nick Perry zeroed in on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. That wasn't a sack. That was an assault.

We learn more and more about concussions -- ex-players are committing suicide or dying from dementia, taking their last breath alongside family members they no longer recognize -- but try to find even a hint of awareness in those hits by Mays, Perry or Ellerbe. Or in either of these two hits by Ravens safety Ed Reed on Sept. 23 against the Patriots, first on Julian Edelman and then Deion Branch.

Or in this hit that same day by Steelers safety Ryan Mundy that knocked Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey cold. Heyward-Bey is airborne, floating toward the ball, when Mundy delivers a helmet into his chin. Mundy was so bothered by that hit that he did it again later in the game, giving a concussion to Raiders tight end Brandon Myers with another helmet-to-helmet hit.

Look, this game is dangerous enough without these ghouls going for knockout shots. We saw that last week when Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon tried to hit Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III legally, diving at waist level and trying to take out Griffin with his own body. As it turns out, Griffin's head collided with Weatherspoon's body. Concussion.

That's the kind of injury you can accept -- for now, anyway -- because there was no intent to injure. Weatherspoon wasn't trying to hurt anyone. He was trying to make a tackle, and stuff happened. Stuff always happens in an NFL game, because these guys are simply too big, and moving too fast, for their own good.

But when it happens because one guy tried to hurt another guy, using his helmet as a weapon? That's when you get sick. That's when you get angry. That's when you think this won't always be your favorite sport.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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