The League

Dave Goldberg
Sports Reporter

Dave Goldberg

Covered the NFL for the AP for 25 years and now is a senior NFL writer for

Teaching "toughness"


Rodney Harrison, who a decade ago had a reputation as the dirtiest player in the NFL, did a mea culpa on NBC before the Redskins-Colts game Sunday night.

"You didn't get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand,'' Harrison said during NBC's Sunday Night Football coverage. "You got my attention when I got suspended ... You have to suspend these guys. These guys are making millions of dollars. I only learned when they suspended me and I wasn't out there to help my teammates. If they're going to change the nature of these hits, you're gonna have to suspend guys.''

And the PR-conscious NFL listened. On Monday, Ray Anderson, the NFL's vice president for football operations told several reporters that the league is considering suspensions.

"There's strong testimonial for looking readily at evaluating discipline, especially in the areas of egregious and elevated dangerous hits," Anderson said. "Going forward there are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension. There are some that could bring suspensions for what are flagrant and egregious situations."

I'm not sure that will drastically change things -- even with the emphasis on the permanent damage that hits to the head can cause there seem to be more of these incidents this season than in any other.

And changing it means you have to change the culture of football, where toughness -- TOUGHNESS!! -- is the credo from Pop Warner through high school to college and the pros.

Think of what you hear every Sunday when a quarterback goes down and an official throws a flag. An analyst -- often a former QB -- suggests that the guy was barely touched and utters a cliche like "they're putting a skirt on quarterbacks.'' I've heard late-hit flags questioned even by Troy Aikman, who retired at 34 because of concussions and is very aware of the problems they can cause.

Still, in youth football on up, "hitting'' is No. 1 for coaches, worse perhaps at that level because amateurs who think they're emulating Vince Lombardi encourage machismo but are less skilled and experienced in teaching safe tackling over tough tackling.

That carries on to high school and college, tempered sometimes when a player like Rutgers' Eric LeGrand is paralyzed during a game -- it happened Saturday in the Scarlet Knights' game against Army -- but usually resumed.

Look at the replays of James Harrison's hits Sunday on Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi; of Dunta Robinson on DeSean Jackson and of Brandon Meriweather on Todd Heap. Look at archive shots of hits by safeties like Harrison, Kenoy Kennedy or John Lynch, who complained when fined that intimidation was part of playing the position.

Punish and intimidate.

It's what they were taught when they started.

By the time they reached the NFL, it's ingrained in their DNA.

A tougher problem to solve than what any suspension can do.

By Dave Goldberg  |  October 19, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Concussions , NFL , NFL Rules , Roger Goodell Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Is this much parity good for the NFL? | Next: A violent, dangerous game


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Posted from another story...
I see as always the NFL itself gets a free pass from posters.
What about the field turf?
It's a good chance that the attempts to save money by introducing yet another "too hard to be safe" playing surface is a much a cause as anything else.

Plus, far too many players don't wear bigger, lower-hanging,chin-protecting facemasks. Everyone including far too many d-linemen wear running back cages. Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and London Fletcher represent the last generation of LBs that wear LB cages. Lavar Arrington was the 1st player I can recall that started wearing a RB cage-he wore it at Penn State and with the Skins'. To my suprise,so did other LBs and DLs.

The QBs of the league almost never wear the 3-bar cages that Marino, Cunningham, and Bledsoe once wore. Eli Manning is one good hit from a concussion-look at his cage, it only covers his nose.

Look at the supposed shoulder pads-they never reach down past the ball of the biceps anymore, now combine that with a cheap, hard playing surface and Voila!-more shoulder/upper body injuries or so it would seem. So many players are so vain, they must show off those tatoos, even at the expense of protecting their shoulders.

Now look at the uniform pants, far too many RBs,WRs and DBs don't wear any leg padding-so when they fall on the ground, where is all that kinetic energy that isn't absorbed by the cheap playing surface supposed to go? That's right, back into their bodies. Everyone likes to point out how bigger,stronger,faster, better trained and conditioned the players are, so why so many hamstring/soft tissue injuries? Well, without any pads to diffuse some of the energy, it goes right through their legs with their muscles being the shock absorbers. I know, they're trying to be as swift and quick as possible, but it comes with more injury risk. Maurice Jones-Drew complained after a pre-season game last year that the opponent was purposefully trying to hurt him,but he didn't have any thigh pads on.

So in a league that supposedly cares so much about "safety", the shortcuts players take to try to gain just a little more quickness should be taken into account in all conversations concerning it.

I just finished watching the Titans/Jaguars on MNF and I'm struck by how close RB Chris Johnson's dreads push his face is to his cage, he doesn't have even in inch of separation-all it's going to take is one good shot to his face and he'll either have a broken jaw, nose or a concussion.
We must also take into account a media that overdoes every newsstory. The sensationalism around this story almost certainly guarantees that another rule change, which of course, ruins the game even more for a core fan such as myself.

I'm souring on the NFL more and more because of the whining, crying, legislating, and handwringing.

As another poster wrote, at some point in time everyone involved knows it's a calculated risk-same as boxing.

Posted by: ArmchairGM | October 19, 2010 3:07 AM

Football is like coal mining. Nobody ever said it was a safe job.

Take off the face masks or go back to the Tommy MacDonald one bar. A broken nose or two, and guys will start laying off the head first torpedo tackling.

Posted by: 21stCenturyCaveman | October 19, 2010 7:46 AM

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