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Hot Topic: Flagrant Hits

Posted Oct 20, 2010

The NFL has taken a stand against helmet-to-helmet hits; Mike Vrabel chimes in

On a single afternoon, the NFL levied out $175,000 in fines to three players - Steelers LB James Harrison ($75,000), Patriots S Brandon Merriweather ($50,000) and Falcons CB Dunta Robinson ($50,000). Each was involved in helmet-to-helmet hits that left an offensive player injured on Sunday.

By dealing out such steep fines, 280 Park Avenue effectively gained the attention of those around the league. Their mid-season message sent a direct notice that the NFL Office really does mean business when it comes to the matter of player safety. Tuesday afternoon

All three players receiving fines were found guilty, in the league’s eyes, of violating player safety rules. The emphasis on player safety also comes in the wake of Rutgers DT Eric LeGrand suffering paralysis while covering a kick against Army on Saturday.

Now that harsher financial penalties have been set into place, the next step for the league includes suspensions being dealt to future offenders.

“What we’re trying to make sure our players understand is that you should know the rules,” NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson said via ESPN Radio. “The coaches know the rules; the players should know the rules. And so if you are in violations of the rules – particularly one of those trying to protect against head, neck injuries – we’re going to hold you to a higher standard.”

Player safety has been a point of emphasis at the league office for several seasons. In recent years, rules were put into place to help protect defenseless players playing the football and for quarterbacks standing in the pocket. Along with the precautionary measures has come criticism from fans and even some players.

Regardless, the NFL has stood by their stance that player safety is the most important issue each and every Sunday.

"We understand this is not just about the NFL," Anderson said. "This is about safety at our level, at the college level, at the high school level, at the pee-wee level, because we are the standard bearer and we are committed to safety at the highest level.

"So we will take all the criticism and all the backlash against those that say we are acting too aggressively in this regard. We are not going to be apologetic. We are not going to be defensive about it. We are going to protect our players and hopefully players at the lower levels as well by example."

Here in Kansas City, we’ve already witnessed two freighting head/neck injuries in 2010. This past preseason, DB Maurice Leggett was placed in a neck brace and carted off the field via stretcher in Tampa. Not two weeks later, fans witnessed rookie LB Cameron Sheffield lay on the Arrowhead turf motionless before being immobilized and carted off on a stretcher.

Last year, TE Brad Cottam fought for a first down against Cleveland when he was upended and landed squarely on his head. Cottam, like Leggett and Sheffield, continues to progress but none have played a down since their suffering their respective injuries.

Maybe the most memorable image among Chiefs fans regarding the severity of head injuries occurred on Opening Day in 2006. It was then that QB Trent Green was knocked unconscious by Bengals DE Robert Gaethers as Green attempted to slide following a scramble. That play signaled the beginning of the end for Green’s playing career as the respected veteran quarterback battled concussions for the following two seasons before eventually retiring.

“I think you can just look at the numbers,” LB Mike Vrabel said when asked to compare the violence of hits in 2010 to that of his rookie season in 1997. “If the NFL was willing to release the numbers in 1997, then we could compare them to what they looked like in 2010. I think that guys have always suffered concussions in this game and it’s unfortunate. I think that what the league and the players association are trying to do is to limit those and let guys know the risks involved.”

The NFL’s response to player safety is built on good intentions, but it’s also sparked an on-going debate that doesn’t appear to be dying anytime soon. A lively debate on the topic could go on for days. What isn’t debatable, however, is that the game will be affected going forward.

With suspensions for violent hits now in play, Todd Haley and other coaches across the league will have to re-address helmet-to-helmet rules with their players. Some players will have to adjust their play. Suspensions for in-game hits could now factor into late-season playoff scenarios as well.

For teams like the Chiefs, who self-admittedly lack overall roster depth, even a one-game suspension could result in a significant loss when pivotal games in December arrive. Then again, it’s player safety that’s involved.

As always, the comments section below is open. Feel free to give your opinion on the matter.

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