NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell notified all NFL franchises this week of the significant discipline blue print that includes suspensions. These fines and suspensions will be enforced on players that strike an opponent in the head or neck area in violation of the rules. Commissioner Goodell sent a memo which was accompanied by a video to all NFL players and coaches (information provided by the NFL). The head coach of each club has been instructed to show the video and read the message to his players and coaching staff as soon as possible. The video includes examples of illegal hits and legal hits under NFL rules.
“One of our most important priorities is protecting our players from needless injury,” Commissioner Goodell said. “In recent years, we have emphasized minimizing contact to the head and neck, especially where a defenseless player is involved. It is clear to me that further action is required to emphasize the importance of teaching safe and controlled techniques, and of playing within the rules. It is incumbent on all of us to support the rules we have in place to protect players.” The enhanced discipline will be imposed even in cases of a first offense, including the possibility of suspension for first-time offenders the clubs were told. Allowing the referees the ability to eject a player could open Pandora ‘s Box on several down the road possibilities.
I played football from the age of eight thru college. I understand the violence of the game, and to be honest with you, that is one of the reasons I was attracted to football at a young age. I was taught about this beautiful and ultimate team sport – the game of football – and the steps you must take to protect yourself through technique and how you use your body as a weapon.
I remember one of my little league coaches to this day saying, “whoever gets to the point of impact the fastest wins and your chances of getting hurt lessens.” This kind of teaching was not intended to injure, hurt, or maim an opponent, but how the game was meant to be played. I remember a situation in little league (Pee Wee 12-14 year olds) were I played Center (and Nose Tackle). The play called was a reverse. I snapped the ball and rolled left, peeled back looking for defenders chasing the receiver. As the receiver took the pitch from the quarterback, it was clear that several defenders were closing in fast. I picked up my speed and used a technique called “side body block” (laying out and flying through the air laterally, while parallel to the ground) taking out two players and severally injuring one. On that play, I broke the femur of a friend of mine. We are still friends to this day, and not because he is one of the top detectives on the Seattle Police force. We’re still friends because that was just part of the game.
The unwritten rule in the NFL when it comes to quarterbacks “protect your own, and go hurt theirs.” There is a reason that the shotgun formation was put into the game. There’s a reason for the three step drops. It’s about timing, but it also allows you to get the ball out quickly to avoid pressure and sacks, hits on your quarterback, low tackling, and hands to the head. I understand the highest priority is the product, player/Gladiator. First, the longevity and safety of the player, secondly marketing the brand of the NFL gets tarnished with the lack of marque names and top players. Thirdly the fan base will suffer, and the bottom line is that the ownership group will lose money. In my tenure in the NFL as a front office executive, college or high school, as a coach or a player, I’ve never seen, heard of, or witnessed a coach teach a technique or instruct a player to intentionally hurt or injure another. No I’m not naive, I just never heard it.
From a Player Personnel point of view, when I was out scouting the country side, grading the top 150 players, I looked for the type of players that were good athletes that played smart and were productive. I looked for players that had a nasty disposition (borderline cheap), downright nasty on the field When you see it’s a lot easier to say ‘Whoa Nellie’ (slow down), then ‘Gitty up’ (move faster). When talking to Coaches and sources at universities, the hairs on my neck stood up when I was told that “nobody on our team or on campus messes with this guy,” or “he only wants to play football, and gets pissed off when he can’t go full speed all the time,” and “he loves his teammates, outside of that he is a loaner.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to bring a social misfit to the organization, but I do want a player that is extremely focused on getting better, has an edge to him, loves the game, has a huge upside in growth, and wants to kick the crap out of an opponent each and every week for sixteen weeks or more.
There are rules in everything we do in life, from driving a motor vehicle to boarding an airplane – and there should be rules in sports as well. My only concern and question is how does this change the game? Football is a violent game, explosive game of teamwork, read and reaction, and yes cheap shot artist out to make a name for themselves have no place in the game. But when you’re asking a defender to use certain techniques that put them in harm’s way as well as the offensive player, I question the intent. The blind side hit on a defenseless receiver moving one direction while looking and reaching back to make a catch is not what the game was about. Of course Jack Tatum, God rest his soul would have knocked you out, regardless of the rule. Players that made this game great, that played it hard each and every down must truly be disappointed. No matter the rules, you will never take out the violence of the game, because it is the human nature of those that play, and there is only one way to play it. Play within the rules, but still very violent. You see that they are grown men, getting bigger, stronger, and faster wearing light weight plastic and cleats, throwing their bodies around like weapons. Protect the players; don’t destroy how the game was meant to be played.