12

February

NFL Concussion Conundrum is Enough to Make You Feel Woozy

One of the biggest headlines during the 2010 season was the issue of player safety, most notably concussions. After a congressional hearing criticized the NFL for not taking the matter more seriously, the NFL took to the issue with a renewed fervor. What resulted was mass confusion for everyone; players, coaches, referees, the media and the fans had no idea what constituted an illegal hit.

This was followed by frustration by many players, most notably Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, who was fined upwards of $10,000 per infraction. Harrison lead the league in fines (with over $100,000) and criticism (with a meeting with commissioner Roger Godell in New York and a fiery jab during the Super Bowl media day) and even threatened to retire should these fines continue.

I believe that the NFL is heading in the right direction, concussions are a serious matter and the ramifications for players as they retire and grow older can be devastating, but the system with which officials determine what constitutes an illegal hit and the repercussions that the NFL enforces afterwards are a little baffling.

The first issue, of course, is what constitutes an illegal hit due to the threat of concussion. While some hits, such as the Julius Peppers’ hit on Aaron Rodgers during the NFC championship game are pretty obvious, others, most notably when defenders end up hitting quarterbacks on the head, are a little harder to explain (such as Trent Cole’s “hit” on Peyton Manning this season). Perhaps if Deacon Jones was still playing and axe chopping quarterbacks that might be an issue, but usually these penalties occur when defenders are trying to bat balls or throwing arms and their hand coincidentally ends up touching the quarterback’s helmet.

The second issue comes from how penalties are handed out. These hits are treated as personal fouls, with a 15 yard penalty, an automatic first down and a likely monetary fine somewhere down the road. A 15 yard penalty with an automatic first down is a good start, the percentage of success for an offense rise exponentially based on their position, so usually such a large penalty will result in points, but if a cornerback can be penalized 45+ yards for pass interference holding by a wide receiver’s arm, hitting a defenseless receiver or knocking out the quarterback should probably be a bigger penalty.

27

January

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?