Over the last few years, the NFL has been fining players almost every week for high tackles. They have become increasingly worried about player concussions and the long-term effects that these cause. The league started fining players with the belief that they would protect defenseless receivers from defenders that were flying in with their helmets.
Playing by the Rules
This past week in New England, Rob Gronkowski suffered a season ending knee injury from a low tackle by Browns’ TJ Ward. Ward’s hit was legal and had no malicious intents but was an indirect result of the NFL’s strict policies. After the game, Ward said:
“My intention is never to hurt anyone. That’s not what this game is about. That’s not how I play. I hate to see guys go down with any kind of injury. I just wanted him to know, whether he accepted it or not, it wasn’t an intentional hit. We have to play this game. We have to play the way they force us to.”
Concussions have been very well documented over recent years as many researchers have tried to show the long-term effects of concussions and the struggle of retired players. The NFL also recently reached a $756 million settlement with the NFLPA in a concussion lawsuit. Its pretty clear that the NFL are actively trying to eliminate any possibility of concussions occurring during a game.
This aggressive approach that the NFL has taken, has replaced concussions with serious knee injuries. Ask most players and they will tell you that they would rather miss 2 games because of a concussion rather than miss an entire season because of a torn ACL. Many players can recover after having multiple concussions and continue to have a productive career, but recovering from two or more knee injuries is a different question. Some players can’t even recover from one torn ACL.
Earlier this season, Rodney Harrison had a few words to say about this.
“As a player you have a warrior mentality” Harrison said. “Players would rather take a shot high. I get hit in the head and I miss a game or two. But if you take out my knees, my career is done”.
The Players’ Responsibility
Another one of my biggest issues with the NFL’s approach towards preventing concussions is their focus on defenders. Many offensive players lead with their head just as much as some defenders but they get away with it all the time. But, what really bothers me is that many players who have a serious history of concussions continue to play football despite doctors advising them not to.
Defenders will continue to be the targets of extravagant NFL fines. Austin Collie is a young and talented Wide Receiver who has seen his career impacted by very serious concussions. Since being in the league, he has experienced 3 concussions, one that left him motionless for 10 minutes. Many doctors have told him that it might be time to walk away from the game even though that’s not what his heart is telling him. The NFL is trying to make rules to protect players from concussions but concussions will always remain a big part of the game which is why players need to protect themselves too. It is for players to know when its time to walk away from the game instead of pointing the finger at the NFL once its too late. If Collie gets a few more concussions and has serious brain trauma later in his life, is the NFL to blame? Unfortunately, retired players suffering from brain trauma are causing the NFL to take this approach.
The NFL is protecting players from concussions, but are players protecting themselves?
Will low hits become a bigger part of the game as the NFL keeps fining players for high hits?
Will we see players’ careers being ended by low hits to the knee?
Player safety is one the main focuses of the league, but the NFL’s current approach has worsened the problem and better policies will need to be introduced. Hits like the one Gronkowski took this past weekend, will make the NFL take another look at the rule book.
One thing for sure, is that no one wants to see these season/career ending knee injuries on a weekly basis.