We can all understand why James Harrison is upset. In fact, on some vague, loosely connected level, we can relate to it.
In addition to unanimously passing rules on Tuesday that expand the definition of the term “defenseless receiver” in the rule book and give officials greater power to hand out penalties for hits that target the head, the NFL is also mulling over another more wide-ranging proposal. The newest measure under discussion involves a team punishment after players have committed too many flagrant fouls.
The idea here is obvious: the NFL didn’t enjoy seeing some of its brightest young stars having to be helped off the field after blows to the head last season. To reinforce the importance of legal hits that don’t place the crosshairs firmly on a player’s noggin, a team that excessively breaks the new rules will be subject to a sweeping punishment. The penalty will most likely come in the form of a fine, but league vice president Adolpho Birch told ESPN that even greater punishment–like stripping draft choices–hasn’t been ruled out for particularly troublesome teams.
Harrison is the league’s scapegoat in its crusade against brain-rattling blows since the middle of last season. The Steelers linebacker was fined three times for a combined $100,000 in 2010, and after the league started its initial crackdown, he briefly and absurdly contemplated retirement.
So it’s easy to see why it didn’t take long for the proposed rule to fine teams to be dubbed the “Steelers rule.” It’s also easy to see why it didn’t take long for Harrison to go on a mini Twitter tirade.
Any good defense excels at gang tackling. So look out! Here comes LaMarr Woodley!
Let’s return to that loose connection, and it is indeed loose.
You’re an office receptionist, and for bizarre reasons only known to those who make decisions, you’ve been told that you will no longer be permitted to use a computer. Only a type-writer will be at your desk, and you’ll be left to do all of your filing and organizing without the tools of modern technology. You get mad, call your boss names, and consider quitting because he’s a raving lunatic. But you stick it out, going through a period of adjustment that requires tweaking your work techniques. The job is certainly more challenging, but it’s by no means impossible.
Harrison and Woodley are going through the first phases of anger. Next in the 12-step program is denial, but they’ll never reach acceptance. They can’t, and they won’t. Like the blood-thirsty fans who shrug their shoulders and say that severe injuries are just part of the game and proactive measures are useless, Harrison and Woodley and I’m sure many others either don’t understand the concept of evolution, or simply won’t accept it. The dark ages is their chosen place of residence, even though the last days of Dave Duerson are downright scary, and studies have surfaced pegging the average life expectancy of a pro football player at 55 years.
The outcry from both players and fans is rooted in the belief that jarring, intimidating hits will evaporate completely. It’s as if the quest for violence on Sundays has reached such a fever pitch that hits to the head are a crucial, vital aspect of the game. They aren’t, and the rules passed by the league aim to strongly send that message.
Effective blows can still be executed with high-level technique, targeting the chest and wrapping up a ball carrier. Altering your style to the accepted form of tackling requires an adjustment process for defensive players, and that process started midway through last season and will continue whenever football is played again.
The problem, it seems, is that Harrison and Woodley don’t believe in evolution.