Not All Fans Are Clueless, Mr. Goodell
By: Justin Onslow
October 23, 2010
James Harrison - Fined $75k
In the last week, the topic of helmet-to-helmet contact in the NFL has been beaten in to the ground by the national sports media, current and former athletes and league officials. I guess I'll try to bury it.

Last weekend, James Harrison, Dunta Robinson and Brandon Meriweather were involved in plays that resulted in fines, which were imposed by the league office. The footage of those hits has seemingly been on repeat on ESPN. Every sport news entity has either reported on or editorialized the topic. There are a hundred angles to cover on the topic and a thousand examples of what is or is not illegal contact. The fact is, nothing is going to change in the NFL. Throughout the history of football, the rules of the sport have changed thousands of times. The goal posts weren't always in the back of the endzone. Quarterbacks weren't always glorified ball machines. Receivers weren't always "defenseless." The NFL can fine and suspend players all it wants. It won't change anything.

Football is often referred to as a "collision sport," as opposed to the old moniker of "contact sport." The hits can be brutal. Players run 4.4 second 40-yard dashes these days. Oh yeah, and they're really big, too. In today's football culture, you make great plays or you simply don't get much exposure. Look no further than Ray Lewis for confirmation. Lewis has made a living punishing offensive players and striking fear into the opposition by delivering crushing blows, jarring fumbles and injuring any player who dares to come across the middle or break through the line of scrimmage.

The big hits are not the issue. Players know what risks are involved with playing football at any level of the game. No one expects to take the field and not get hit except maybe quarterbacks and kickers. In the last five or six years, quarterbacks have become almost untouchable in the field of play. Defensive backs can hardly breathe on a receiver without a flag being thrown.

I understand the concern that Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL's talking heads has for the health and safety of its players. No one wants to see a player get paralyzed or concussed in front of 50,000 fans. It's not good for the game, and it's not good for the players. But the bottom line is this: Flagrant hits to the head of "defenseless" players are simply a golden opportunity for the NFL to exploit its moneymakers, and last weekend set the stage for the league to make something "beneficial" happen.

It's no secret that quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers lead the NFL in jersey sales every year. They also get some outrageous contracts, put fans in the seats and increase television ratings. Why not keep them on the field at all cost? Sports fans love offense. Or at least most do, and that makes preserving offensive players a necessity for the NFL. Preserving. Not protecting.

If the NFL were concerned about the well-being of its players, the league would be more considerate toward its retired players. If I had a nickel for every ex-NFL player with serious health concerns that the league has refused to help, I'd have about as much money as the league has given to those players for medical bills. So maybe that's the real issue. Protect players now, pay less later. Pass the blame on to safeties and linebackers and make those players foot the bill when it comes time for Josh Cribbs or Desean Jackson to pay medical bills in ten or so years.

As much as I love NFL football, I'm getting to the point of exasperation with Roger Goodell and the rest of the league executives that think the fans are as stupid as they perceive us to be. We get it. It's a business. So Mr. Goodell, with all due respect, don't turn this issue into something it is not. This is all business. We may not have all graduated college with an economic degree, but we all understand what you're trying to do. Own it.

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