San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner's reputation is following him.
Whitner, who has been a repeat violator of the NFL's rules on illegal hits and threatened to legally change his name to "Hitner" in response, has the officials looking closely at his play. That's pretty clear after he did everything he could to hit Steven Jackson legally on Monday night, and still got penalized anyway.
Whitner turned his body and appeared to hit Jackson in the chest with his shoulder as Jackson reached for the pass. It was a hard hit, but Whitner went out of his way to make sure it wasn't helmet-to-helmet, and it appeared he succeeded. The flag came anyway. That penalty led to a touchdown by the Falcons.
Whitner was predictably upset after the game.
"I didn't lead with the crown of my helmet. He wasn't defenseless; I led with my shoulder and hit him in the chest," Whitner said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "So I don't know what else what you want me to do."
The Chronicle points out that Whitner had a similar penalty on Week 15 for a helmet-to-helmet hit, but wasn't fined by the NFL, which seemed to be an admission that the call was wrong. He also successfully appealed a fine for a hit against the Rams in Week 4.
More replay challenges might slow down the game, but it's just too hard for officials to see in real time if a defensive player hit a player in the helmet with his head, or a few inches lower in the chest with his shoulder. In real time, it looked like Whitner might have hit Jackson illegally, but television replays showed pretty conclusively he hadn't. Officials don't have the option of looking at replay on those hits, which happen very fast.
Maybe they should be allowed to take a second look. Whitner probably wouldn't mind. It might help him avoid penalties that seem to be given to him based on his reputation.
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