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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ante Up! (Yap That Fool)

Rodney Harrison would have you think that he was the most untamed of gorillas during his 16 seasons in the NFL. Twice during his playing career, he was voted by his peers as the leagues dirtiest player. He won a similar award on a poll of NFL coaches done by ESPN. Over his career, he racked up over $200,000
in fines and was once suspended for using HGH.
Currently, Harrison is an analyst on NBC's Football Night in America. He plays up that tough guy persona when on TV. He will often speak against players, coaches, and even the league itself in a matter of fact way, as though objectors must be willing to meet him in a dark alley to discuss the situation further.
This past Sunday, Harrison addressed the NFL topic du jour: illegal hits to the head and neck. Dan Patrick asked if he thought the league should increase the fines for those kinds of plays, and Harrison responded by saying that he would set aside $50,000 each season to pay for fines he planned on getting. He said he did so because he wanted the players to know just what kind of a player they were facing.
Translation, he fully intended on hitting people illegaly.
(Cue Gangstarr's "Just To Get A Rep")
Harrison said the only thing that would resonate with him as a player would be a one-game suspension, or longer. Not just for the money, but the regret from letting his teammates down. According to him, he would feel guilty knowing he missed time because of one unnecessarily violent hit.
As if on cue, the NFL has come out publicly and said all helmet-to-helmet hits in the future would be subject to suspensions and increased fines. This weekend, three players (Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson, and New England Patriots safety Brandon Merriweather) were fined a combined $175 for helmet-to-helmet hits.
The NFL's public position is they want to put the safety of the players ahead of the highlight reel potential of the hit. Of course cynics like me will assume they are publicly saying one thing, while privately hoping the other thing continues.
The defensive players position is... well... I'll let James Harrison (no blood relation to Rodney, but just as gangsta) speak for himself.
"I try to hurt people."
He said some other stuff too: "Blah, blah, blah, there's a difference... Blah, blah, blah when you're injured you can't play, but when you're hurt you can shake it off and come back, blah, blah, blah..."
Meanwhile, offensive players don't say much.
There are generally three camps of offensive players on this subject. The first camp is the vocal minority. They speak out, complain loudly that the hits were uncalled for.
Cleveland Browns tight end Ben Watson said of Harrison's two helmet-to-helmet hits that occurred when the Browns played the Pittsburgh Steelers this past weekend, "I hope the NFL takes care of him with the max, whatever the max is, I hope they give it to him."
The second camp is the group more reluctant to cast aspersions, but speak anyway. Watson's teammate, running back Peyton Hillis, said, "I don't think (Harrison) should get suspended... I don't think he meant to hurt two people like everyone thinks he did."
The third camp is the dead silent majority of offensive players who don't say anything. It could be out of fear, respect, or even acknowledgement that football is an insanely violent sport. Whatever the case may be, you'll rarely hear the majority of offensive players speak on being hit.
So what do we make of it all? Is it the goal of all hard-hitting defenders out to "hurt" players? (Kinda.) Should fines be levied against defenders for essentially doing what they are being paid to do? (Maybe.) Is the NFL simply choosing to enforce a rule it had already had in the books for years because 11 concussions were documented this weekend alone? (Probably.) Hasn't the NFL encouraged this kind of play throughout its existence? (Most definitely.)
Would you watch a game of eleven on eleven flag-football every Sunday? (Hell to the nah.)
So what's the endgame? I'm no future teller on the caliber of Nostradamus or Ms. Cleo, but I can see a few more players being made into examples. Probably some questionable suspensions and hefty fines. Then, a game will be decided by a questionable hit, and another media driven uproar, this time pushing the pendelum back the other way. Lastly, a Super Bowl, a long offseason, minus the head hitting talk, and the 2011 season will start anew, and we will all have forgotten about how much we cared.
Almost like we got hit in the head.

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