The NFL levied big fines on James Harrison, Brandon Meriweather and Dunta Robinson for big hits in games this past weekend. The NFL also warned that big hits are also going to cause big fines for everyone in the league. Many players voiced their displeasure to this policy, including Bears Brian Urlacher and Chris Harris.
"It's freaking football. There are going to be big hits,'' Urlacher said. "I don't understand how they can do this after one weekend of hitting. And I can't understand how they can suspend us for it. I think it's a bunch of bull (crap)."
Chris Harris jumped on his Twitter account and blasted the NFL, saying that the NFL is singling out defensive players, calling it a kneejerk reaction, and that no one intentionally tries to hit helmet-to-helmet.
It's understandable that the players don't want to change the way they play. Big hits are memorable, effective and rile up a crowd (a fact the league implicity recognized when they offered photographs of the Harrison-Massaquoi hit for sale.) When a safety takes out a wide receiver at full-speed, as Robinson did to DeSean Jackson in Sunday's Philadelphia win over Atlanta, the crowd goes crazy and the hit is replayed online and on TV, bringing notoriety to the hitter. At the same time, Robinson needed to be helped off the field, and Jackson suffered a severe concussion and memory loss.
The NFL's policy will not be popular, but the league is in a situation where it must act to protect the players. In a helmet-to-helmet hit, both players are put at risk for brain injury. Reports on what brain injuries have done to pro football players have been grim. Everything from short-term memory loss to suicide and bizarre behavior that leads to death have been attributed to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition that results from the repeated hits taken by football players.
Harris asked if Bears legends Dick Butkus or Richard Dent had to worry about easing up on hits because of the NFL. No, they did not, but at the same time, the research on CTE has only come out in the last few years. We didn't know better when Butkus and Dent roamed Soldier Field. Pregnant women used to smoke and contractors used asbestos in buildings because we didn't know any better. When science caught up with behavior, society made the change and now newborns are healthier and buildings are safer.
A change in the game won't be easy or popular, but science has caught up with football. The NFL needs to do what they can to keep the players healthy and safe.