Aaron Rodgers and Illegal Hits: When Will the NFL Walk the Talk?
When I read that Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers was fined $10,000 by the NFL today for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Sunday’s NFC Championship, one thought and one thought only went through my head:
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!
For a player who recently signed a huge free agent contract that could total $91.5 million, $10,000 is like pennies to you and me. During the regular season, the NFL apparently made it crystal clear to teams and players that hits that involve the leading of the helmet would not be tolerated and would be met with stiff fines and possible suspensions.
If $10,000 is a stiff fine to multi-millionaires, then I’m the King of England.
Look at Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (who the Packers will face in Super Bowl XLV). He has been fined for times for illegal hits and the fines total $125,000 for an average of roughly $31,000 per offense. Again, pocket change to the millionaire players of the NFL.
But let’s get back to Peppers, and more importantly for Packer fans, Rodgers.
This is not the first time Peppers has rung Rodgers’ “bell.” In a regular season game at Lambeau Field in 2008, Peppers was flagged for a bruising hit on Rodgers out of bounds when he played for the Carolina Panthers. That hit can be seen here: Julius Peppers Nails Aaron Rodgers
If the NFL really is taking multiple offenses seriously, why aren’t they looking at past seasons so they can definitively establish a pattern of illegal hits from a player? As a lot of fans are so fond of saying when criticizing coaches, it’s not one game—it’s the “body of work.”
Worse yet, this fine once again raises a question that Packer fans have been asking over the past year and maybe more:
“Why is the league so interested in protecting 31 other quarterbacks but not Aaron Rodgers?”
Is some of this fan protectionism of “their” guy? Possibly. Have other quarterbacks taken shots like Rodgers has and not had a flag thrown? No question.
Still, it seems like Rodgers takes more illegal hits that don’t get called than any other quarterback in the league. The question everyone is asking is: why?
First off, I’m not here to start some kind of grand conspiracy theory. I don’t think the league office has it out for Rodgers or that they’re picking on him in any way shape or form.
The main reason I believe for the lack of calls has been Rodgers’ style of play. As a quarterback who moves out of the pocket quite well and is able to throw on the run, he is opening himself up to more brutal hits by linebackers and corners rather than taking hits by slower defensive linemen had he stayed in the pocket. Look at some the hits Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Mike Vick took during the season.
This doesn’t mean Rodgers should change his style of play. No way, Jose. Rodgers is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the game and the Packers should continue to utilize all his abilities. I personally love Rodgers’ game and he should keep doing what he’s doing. He isn’t the issue here.
What IS the issue is a league that seems to be at a crossroads when it comes to player safety. If they go one way, they’re being far too lenient on the player. They go the other way, and they’re accused of “wussifying” the game. It’s a tough spot for the NFL to be in, especially with all the new data being brought about players’ long term health after they retire from football.
What the league CAN and SHOULD do, however, is start suspending repeat offenders and stripping them of game checks for intentional hits. Football is a violent game and it’s impossible to nearly get rid of the violent collisions considering the size and speed of NFL players today.
Would a “safety official” up in the replay booth be the answer? I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer would be.
All I’m saying is the league needs to walk the walk and talk the talk. If they say they are going to say they will be imposing “stiff “ fines on players for illegal hits, then do it. Be consistent. Do what you say you are going to do.
Is that so hard to ask?——————
Kris Burke is a freelance sports writer currently residing in Wisconsin. His work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke