October 19th, 2010
11:59 AM ET

NFL looking at rules after weekend of violent hits

A rash of injuries from helmet-to-helmet hitting has the National Football League reviewing its approach to the practice.

Several players were injured Sunday in what some fans and observers perceived as a particularly violent weekend of football.

That led to an announcement from the NFL on Tuesday saying while the league may not specifically change any rules of the game, it will be more vigilant about ejecting and/or suspending players who have made flagrant hits.

Former player Rodney Harrison, now a television commentator, was known for his vicious tackling style. He says suspensions are the only way to tone down the violence in the game.

"You didn't get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand," Harrison said on NBC's pregame show Sunday evening. "You got my attention when I got suspended. ... You have to suspend these guys. These guys are making millions of dollars. The NFL [has to say], 'We're going to really protect our players. We're going to suspend these guys, not one game, but possibly two or more games.' "

That language - caught the attention of NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson - who told SI's Peter King the hits this weekend left him "profoundly disturbed."

He said comments like that were even more reason why the NFL needed to step up enforcement.

"After listening to the impactful words of Rodney Harrison that fines really are not a deterrent, I think we have to get across to the players that you may be facing a suspension for the kinds of hits we're seeing."
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison took two Cleveland Browns offensive players - Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs - out of the game with big hits Sunday, though the league ruled that the hit on Cribbs was legal. 

Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap was knocked out of the game after a devastating head-to-head hit by New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather. In a massive collision between the Philadelphia Eagles' DeSean Jackson and the Atlanta Falcons' Dunta Robinson, both players suffered concussions.

And the problem is by no means confined to the professional ranks. On Saturday, Rutgers defensive end Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down after his tackle on an Army player during a kickoff return.

The very next day on the very same field in Rutherford, New Jersey, big-hitting Detroit Lions linebacker Zack Follett was carted off after a collision with the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul.

After reviewing the weekend's NFL violence, SI.com's  Peter King said the league must crack down hard on these devastating hits.

"The NFL has to draw a line in the sand right here, right now, and insist that the forearm shivers and leading with the helmet and launching into unprotected receivers will be dealt with severely," King wrote. "Six-figure fines. Suspensions. Ejections."

Pressure on the league to do something about head-to-head hits has been growing since NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's testimony before Congress last year. The league is reluctant to change any rules in the middle of a season, but it apparently is ready to impose harsher punishment under current rules.

Players say hitting is what the game is about. Pittsburgh's James Harrison said when he hits an opposing player, his goal is not just to tackle him but to knock him out of the game. He wants them to hurt enough not to return that day, but not to suffer permanent injury.

"I don't want to injure anybody," Harrison said following Pittsburgh's 28-10 victory. "There's a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people."

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Filed under: Pro football • Sports • U.S.
soundoff (406 Responses)
  1. obsz

    might as well call it flag football. or maybe they should play without helmets. that will teach them to not hit with their heads. anyhow, this is a shame on the sport, im going to stick with college football and rugby.

    October 20, 2010 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      College football has more restrictions than pro. And in rugby, they dont wear pads or helmets because the game is always moving in front of you. You can't get blindsided trying to turn up field after catching a ball very easily.

      October 20, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dudley4637289

    I don't care what decisions are made about making the game safe, but please, please, please don't try to turn American Football into some soccer-like sport where the first thing someone learns to do when their toes get stepped on, they get hit in the cheek or someone tackles them with a little vigor is to drop, grab their shin and writhe in pain with gastly grimaces and beg the ump for a yellow card. Perhaps it's cultural, bu the English speaking nations all have manly, rather tough versions of soccer to play and I appreciate them. Heck, the NBA is a lot rougher than soccer, and it's a 'non-contact' sport.

    October 20, 2010 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  3. MidwestMunk85

    Might as well just ban the game of football since people are looking for more ways to control it to be a safe sport. I love rugby because those guys are not afraid of getting hurt unlike football players.

    October 20, 2010 at 4:01 am | Report abuse |

      I enjoy rugby too, played for a short time some 30 years ago, but there is certainly a difference in the intensity that they play and size of the players. How many times have you seen rugby players running full speed and take on a player head to head. In football the defenders use their body as spears to hit the offensive players. Yeah sometimes it's accidental but mostly intentional, not necessarily to hurt them but rather to take them down or fumble. Until there are suspensions or 6 digit fines large numbers of concussions will continue.

      October 20, 2010 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
  4. Raul

    How much money they get paid is not the issue. The NFL is in the right track here. The players are human after all.

    October 20, 2010 at 5:13 am | Report abuse |
  5. ghee

    Maybe suspend the head coach. The coaches probably tell their players to make these nasty hits.

    October 20, 2010 at 6:50 am | Report abuse |
  6. Nick

    This is the scariest comments section I've ever seen. I love football, but it's just a game. These are people we're talking about, not animals. If you would rather see human beings taking permanent (and sometimes life shortening) brain and spinal injuries rather than see a couple rule adjustments in the sport you supposedly love, something is way off in your head.

    And comparisons to rugby, PLEASE! Rugby's a tough sport, no doubt, but it has nowhere near the level of intense hits as NFL Football (or even college I would say).

    No, these guys don't get paid gobs of money to risk their lives and health, they get paid gobs of money because they bring in gobs of money to the teams, cities, and regions they play for.

    October 20, 2010 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Jason B.

      Rugby also doesn't have guys weighing in at 300+ pounds coming at you running full tilt.

      October 20, 2010 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Not to mention that the game is always moving in front of you in Rugby. You aren't looking back for a ball while someone squares up to cream you. Not to mention, the lack of padding and helmets forces the players to tackle in a way that protects themselves as much as the other player.

      October 20, 2010 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jason B.

    The NFL is in a tough predicament here. For 70 years they've used the violence and hard hits as a marketing tool. And as bad as James Harrison's words seem, he's correct. To a degree, he's paid to hurt people. I'm certainly glad they're getting tougher about these hits though. But...I hope they use a dash of common sense in the calls. For example, I may not have intended to hit you helmet to helmet, but in the course of the tackle you turned in such a way that our helmets did hit. Certainly not an intentional hit...I was coming in at your chest and you ducked.

    I think my only worry is that the NFL may go too far. Look at it now...you even look wrong at a kicker and you get a flag. And I'm not even sure why QBs bother to wear pads...you can't even touch his shoelaces without getting called for roughing the passer.

    October 20, 2010 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Chubby

      Yes, the rules are turning it into softy ball vice football. Yet, players need better equipment to reduce injuries.

      October 20, 2010 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
  8. Chubby

    For one, they need a better helmet. The fiberglass helmets allow to much force to be transferred from the blow to the head. I know that the helmets make awsome noises as they collide together. But, an inflatable helmet with holes and slots for air flow would allow for the force of a blow to transfer throughout the air chambers. Then there will need to be straps around the neck to reduce the neck from traveling to far the wrong way. Jersey's and pants can also have inflatable sections within them to reduce the force of blows and reduce injury. There you go NFL. If you adopt these uniform changes or if anyone use my idea to develop this uniform, I am asking for only 2% of the profits.

    October 20, 2010 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      People would just fill their uniforms with helium and moon-hop over the defense haha.

      October 20, 2010 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. Ken2112

    The problem is that the days of the wrap 'em up tackling is fading. More and more players are relying on these massive hits to bring down players. Back in the '70s, when I first started watching football, the only time you would see a vicious hit was on a wide receiver in the open field. MAYBE a quarterback once in a while. Now, these guys are going for it on every play. The players are bigger, stronger, and faster today than back in the '70s and should be more responsible when taking the field.

    I think there should be a 3 strikes rule in football also. If you your flagged 3 times in a season for helmet to helmet hits. You earn yourself a one year suspension. One more time after that, you are removed from the NFL permanantly. Just my opinion.

    October 20, 2010 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
  10. Ethan

    Come on. Let the players play. Games are already riddled with flags, and all these "crackdowns" just make it worse.

    These people aren't being paid millions of dollars to give each other ginger taps. They're getting all this money and fame because they are warriors. They're warriors in a culture that doesn't allow people to be warriors. Back off, and let them play hard. Let them play to win.

    October 20, 2010 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. tom r

    It's going to take a long time to get rid of the vicious hits. It's ingrained into the sport. It's also going to take a long time to get rid of returning players, who have obviously suffered head injuries, back into the games even on the same day. The league has a problem and they are having a hard time dealing with it.

    October 20, 2010 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  12. The Duke

    As a rugby player I believe football should ditch helmets. They are no longer defensive equipment but offensive. Take away the helmets (or return to the modest leather variety) and people will no longer tackle with their heads. There are more concussions in football than rugby.

    October 20, 2010 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mike

    Professional football is warfare by another name. Many of these "players" would be in prison if they weren't being paid millions to brutalize each other. And we Americans love it, yet more proof of the decline and impending fall of our civilization.

    October 20, 2010 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  14. keys

    Really people. How is it understood about football? Big hits make up the game. From pancake blocks to trucking people to slobberknocker hits. As a player that's what you want and look to do. Cause that's how you get scholarships and get picked up in the league.
    And to put as its been out out many of times. If you are afraid of getting hit then take up another sport. Also If you don't want your kids to play then push a different sport to them. Cause the field has no place for soft timid players. You put the pads on and go into a game afraid of gettimg contact then you will be part of someones highlight reel.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  15. Mike

    This is ridiculous, i can't believe how dumb this debate over hard hits in "FOOTBALL" has become. Hard hits are encouraged in the game, that's football, by no means due i agree with the intentionally injuring of another player, but theres nothing illegal about a hard clean hit, yet players get there bell rung all the time and recieve concussions from it. That's the way of football, we already impose enough punishment to those that violate the current way to engage an opponet and for some of it i agree with, but how many more ways are you going to prohibit a player from making a hard hit......... limit the distant two players can engage each other in full tilt contact. You might as well have players get in full equipment and run around the field with flags around there waist belt. I just hate to see anymore be taken away from the game.

    October 20, 2010 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
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