Big Hits Cause Big Controversy

Kyle Blum

So far, the 2008 NFL season has not followed the conventional diagram for a year of football. None of the preseason favorites (Patriots, Chargers, Colts, Cowboys) have emerged as this year’s dominant team. Instead, the pack is being led by the undefeated Tennessee Titans with Kerry Collins at quarterback, and the New York Giants, who managed to fly in under the radar this season despite being last year’s champion. This year has also seen a ridiculous rise in the number of fines being handed out to players for violation of the league’s “safety” policy. Furthermore, some of the games’ biggest names have spoken out after being slapped with fines by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Two of the first high profile fines of the year were handed out to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward for plays that he wasn’t even penalized on. Ward was fined a total of $10,000 for a hit against the Ravens and a hit against the Jaguars in late September and early October, respectively. Even though it is not uncommon for a fine to be given without a penalty on the play, Ward’s public criticism was one of the first steps towards placing the issue on center stage.

On October 16, Ward’s teammate, safety Troy Polamalu criticized Goodell’s fines.

“It’s becoming more and more flag football, two-hand touch. We’ve really lost the essence of what real American football is about. They’re not really concerned about safety, because people have been doing this for … quite a few decades.”

Polamalu went on to say that the NFL was merely trying to collect extra money from players in any way it could. Polamalu is known for being one of the league’s heaviest hitters, but he is usually soft-spoken off the field and has never publicly criticized the league before.

Commissioner Goodell was quick to fire back at Polamalu.

“I have a great deal of respect for him as a player, and obviously he has a right to his own views, but to say that this is about money and not the health of our players, I think, is extremely disappointing.”

In the past few weeks, more fines have been handed out by the league, occasionally accompanied by another outburst from a player furious with the league for not allowing defenders to play the way that they’ve grown up playing. Jared Allen of the Vikings, John Henderson of the Jaguars, and LaMarr Woodley of the Steelers were all fined for various hard-hitting violations after last weekend’s NFL action. Last year the total number of fines for this type of hitting was 20. So far this season there have been 19. While Polamalu was certainly out of line when he claimed the NFL was seeking to collect extra money from players, there can be little doubt that the NFL has gone overboard with its fines this season.

After all, the NFL was created to be a game of hard-hitting, bone-crushing collisions between phenomenal athletes at full speed trying to kill each other. Every morning on Sunday NFL Countdown, Boomer and the crew review last week’s biggest hits. Americans all over the country skip the first half of Monday Night Football, but tune in for halftime’s, “JACKED UP!” segment. Fans celebrate hard hitting for God sakes; we don’t punish it. Obviously there are some plays that cross the line, and the league should certainly step in to send a message to players who are clearly out of control and dangerously going after quarterbacks. However, all of these fines come at a price. How many more have to be handed out before a defensive player is running at full speed and hesitates for a second before making the hit because he is afraid of losing the ten grand? With how publicized the issue has been this season, I wouldn’t be too surprised if that moment wasn’t so far off.

The NFL has even looked into football video games because they were afraid of the messages being sent to players. The league openly criticized NFL Blitz: The League because players were allowed to body slam their opponents after they’d been tackled. They also cited the ability to turn off penalties in other football games as being a potentially dangerous message.

This is getting ridiculous. When you suit up in the NFL on either side of the ball, you’ve been playing football for a good chunk of time, and you know the risks you’re assuming by playing. Defensive backs, wide receivers and quarterbacks have all spoken out against Goodell’s torrential downpour of fines upon players, and it is becoming more and more obvious that no one is on his side. Not the fans. Not the players. So where is this coming from? My advice to Commissioner Goodell is to stick to dealing with Pacman Jones, because no one playing the game is on his side.