If the announcement by the NFL on Monday that the league would begin to hand down suspensions for head shots was intended to signal an attempt to limit the potential of life-altering — or even life-threatening — brain injuries in the league, then after watching the train wreck that was the post-game show following Monday Night Football, all I can say is that the NFL looks to be way too late. Listening to Matt Millen and, to a lesser extent, Trent Dilfer, ramble on about the “damage” the NFL’s new stance would somehow do the integrity of the game made me feel about as queasy as I’m thinking DeSean Jackson or Todd Heap felt after they fell victim to two brutal cheap shots on Sunday.
The NFL clearly (to me, at least) is planning on targeting the flagrant, illegal hits that are too often seen in the game today. We’re living in a world where too many players think the “immortality” of having your personal highlights replayed over and over on Fox, CBS, NBC, and ESPN — or on YouTube — is more important than whether or not the team wins, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s a mentality among many of those players that’s it’s all important to deliver a bone-crushing hit that makes you the feature on all of the highlight shows at the end of the day. On its surface, I don’t have a problem with that at all; hard-hitting action is a hallmark of the NFL, and it’s been a part of the game for as long as players have been putting on pads. Clean hits that separate a player from the ball — and occasionally their senses — are something that shouldn’t be legislated away. Hits like the one below, for example.
Now that’s a hard, clean hit. Sheldon Brown of the Eagles didn’t lead with head, didn’t use his metal helmet as a weapon, and didn’t hit Bush in the head.
But concerning the players who do lead with their helmet — a deadly weapon — and purposely do so while aiming at another players head? That should be completely unacceptable, and the NFL should crack down on players who take cheap shots and hit them where it hurts — with suspensions without pay. You want to go helmet-to-helmet on another player purposely in an attempt to injure them — a fair analysis of what took place by both Dunta Robinson of the Falcons (on Jackson) and Brandon Meriweather (on Heap)? Both players should be suspended for as long as their victims can’t play — or longer. Clearly, 15 yard penalties and fines that amount to chump change aren’t doing the trick to keep the nonsense we saw this weekend off of the field — and if the NFL doesn’t crack down on what’s going on, then we’re going to be witness at some point to another Darryl Stingley incident — or worse, an unnecessary death on the field.
But don’t tell that to Matt Millen or Trent Dilfer. Unlike Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy, who spoke eloquently on Sunday night at length about the problem, we instead get he circus at ESPN, where overreaction was the word of the night. It was bad enough to hear guys like Stuart Scott completely missing the point of what the NFL is trying to do by insinuating that any hard hit, regardless of whether it’s legal or not, will somehow result in suspensions. If you actually pay any attention to what the NFL is saying and if you possess even moderate intelligence (which would apparently make you one step ahead of what passes as journalists at the “worldwide leader in sports” these days), you’d also realize that the league is looking to do nothing resembling that overstep at all. But listening to the garbage spewing out of Millen’s mouth and the idiocy out of Dilfer’s — and the ignorance out of both — on Monday night left me unable to mute the television fast enough.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee seemed completely oblivious to the illegality of the hits that the NFL does want to get rid of, while focusing on all manner of things that the NFL isn’t looking to regulate. “It’s part of the game!” they kept repeating over and over. Really? Using your helmet as a weapon against another player’s head is part of the game that’s encouraged? Since when? And if so, then when did playing football morph into something closer to professional wrestling, because to my knowledge, going helmet-to-helmet has warranted an ejection in the league since all the way back in 2007? (Though, good luck finding any past instances when officials have actually enforced that).
The lowlight highlight of Millen’s diatribe was his insinuation that there were people (Goodell, presumably) who had never played the game making decision about the game that were ill thought out. Someone should remind Millen, who has all of his years of NFL playing experience to point to, that when he was in a capacity to make decisions regarding the NFL — in the capacity of Detroit GM — that he acquitted himself so poorly, that one might have thought he was dealing with brain damage already, so maybe he’s not the one to talk. At least, maybe, without consulting with a neurologist first. Then again, this a guy who once used his helmet as a weapon in taking a swing at a non-player — New England GM Pat Sullivan — so in turn, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised.
Steve Young was the voice of reason on Monday — not surprising, considering his own history with post-concussion syndrome. He deserves credit for speaking out in an atmosphere filled with machisimo that discourages players from speaking out against anything that might threaten the culture surrounding pro football (the same culture that has led so many players in the past to play with concussions when they should have been nowhere near the field). Millen and Dilfer, on the other hand, get an dubious double dishonor this week: An Idiot Alert AND a Ro-Sham-Bo Award. My only solace is that, in the future, when these two buffoons flash onto my TV screen, it can be my signal to change the channel.