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Suspensions are only way to lessen vicious hits

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

Perhaps the image of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson(notes) needing two people to help him off the field Sunday was enough. Maybe it's the information that keeps pouring in on the long-term danger of concussions and head injuries.

Or it could just be the realization that fining defensive players for helmet-to-helmet hits hasn't worked as a deterrent.

Whatever the prompting, NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson told the Associated Press on Monday that the league will consider suspending players for big, head-to-head hits. If so, it could have significant impact on competition. By sitting out, a player loses a game check as well.

"There's strong testimonial for looking readily at evaluating discipline, especially in the areas of egregious and elevated dangerous hits," Anderson said. "Going forward there are certain hits that occurred that will be more susceptible to suspension. There are some that could bring suspensions for what are flagrant and egregious situations."

Whether that includes – or should include – the shot Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson(notes) delivered to Jackson isn't known. Robinson was flagged for hitting a defenseless player. It was a big hit – Robinson also was laid out on the field – although not something that looked purposefully menacing. This was in contrast to the pair of nasty hits Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison(notes) laid on a pair of Cleveland Browns and responded with seemingly no remorse.

In theory, issuing suspensions for vicious head shots is overdue. But what constitutes vicious? The NFL already has more rules than anyone can reasonably keep track of, and no one wants to see great defensive players arbitrarily suspended for innocent plays that happen to result in someone getting injured. The league will need to define and enforce this properly and consistently – neither too harsh nor too soft.

Football is, and should always be, a violent game. Big hits are part of the action and nothing is going to stop the colossal collisions and concussions from occurring. Cutting down on the number of them is a worthy goal, though. It's not in the spirit of the game to give offensive players too great an advantage. If receivers can work the middle of the field without fear of getting whacked, then the way the game is played is altered.

Still, it also doesn't help anyone to have Jackson sidelined for a few weeks. And for the long-term health of the players, the league needs to make a greater effort at preventing blows to the head of all players, not just glamorous quarterbacks. Every player has to understand that.

The goal here is a fundamental change in the way players are tackled. Players need to be deterred from aiming high. The only way that will change is if there is a real consequence to slamming your helmet into someone else's. Fines haven't done it.

On an NBC broadcast Sunday, analyst Rodney Harrison(notes), a noted physical player during his playing days, said the league's system of fines did nothing to deter him. He said he put $50,000 a year away to pay them. It was just the cost of doing business.

"You didn't get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand," Harrison said. "You got my attention when I got suspended, and I had to get away from my teammates, and I disappointed my teammates from not being there."

Seated next to Harrison on the NBC set was former coach Tony Dungy, who admitted he barely cared if players were fined. If a player was lost for the next game, however, there would've been trouble.

"It's not the fine that's going to do it," Dungy said. "These guys are not doing this on purpose, but they've got to lower their strike zone, change it. We had this with the quarterbacks a few years ago, and we got the defenders to change. You have to protect these receivers. Some of these guys may be out two or three weeks, and the only way to make it fair is have these defenders sit out if they damage someone."

View photo

Mohamed Massaquoi was one of two Browns knocked out by Harrison.
(Charles LeClaire/US Presswire)

That sounds good on a network panel. What about in real life?

The NFL is famous for its precise rules. Whether it's the definition of a "tuck" or the intricate parts of a completion, we've seen well thought-out rulings defy common sense. You'd rather have a league run that way than with everything left up to interpretation.

Written and enforced properly, this is a strong idea by the NFL. The league already is losing too many players to injury, and this is a place where that number can be cut. As the owners push for an extended 18-game season, players' health becomes even more important.

Something needs to be done to slow down the concussion rate, and maybe a few suspensions will make an NFL player think twice about his tackling technique. As an added bonus, it would cut down on the highlight hits that college and high school players often emulate.

Monetary fines haven't changed a thing. Getting guys in trouble with the boss and their locker-room peers might.

As such, a new rule is worth a try.

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