After some nasty helmet-to-helmet collisions on the football field, it was comments made in the broadcast studio that attracted the attention of the NFL. On Sunday Night Football, former Chargers and Patriots safety Rodney Harrison—who was voted twice by his peers as the dirtiest player in the game—said that fines had no impact on his on-field behavior:
Fining me five- or ten-grand really didn’t affect me. But I got to a point where when they suspended me, I knew the effect on my teammates. [It was] the disappointment, me not being out there, not the $100,000 that got taken away from me. … That’s what they’re going to have to do to if they’re going to change the nature of these hits: you have to suspend guys.
Much different than the Harrison who declared in 2006 after his second dirtiest player crown: “All I can say is as many guys as say I’m a dirty player, just as many come up and tell me they admire how I play, the hard work, the commitment, the toughness. That’s the pride you’re looking for. I take pride in that. But dirty? I don’t think you guys can look in my eyes and say I’m a dirty player.”
The league took a hard-line stance, handing out major fines (compared with other helmet-to-helmet hits as recent as last week) for the hits that started this conversation:
- Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson hit Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson in the head so hard, Jackson does not remember the hit. Robinson was fined $50,000.
- Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather was also docked $50,000 for a hit that had Ravens tight end Todd Heap out for the remainder of the game.
- Steelers linebacker James Harrison knocked two Browns players out of the game and was fined $75,000.
Recently, fines of $5,000 to $10,000 were the standard. In one case of these three cases, a player essentially played for free, as the fine exceeded his game check.
After these fines were assessed, the NFL released a DVD (video) to all teams and this statement on Wednesday:
TO NFL PLAYERS AND COACHES:
One of our highest priorities is player safety. We all know that football is a tough game that includes hard contact. But that carries with it an obligation to do all that we can to protect all players from unnecessary injury caused by dangerous techniques from those who play outside the rules.
The video shown today shows what kind of hits are against the rules, but also makes clear that you can play a hard, physical game within the rules.
Violations of the playing rules that unreasonably put the safety of another player in jeopardy have no place in the game, and that is especially true in the case of hits to the head and neck. Accordingly, from this point forward, you should be clear on the following points:
1. Players are expected to play within the rules. Those who do not will face increased discipline, including suspensions, starting with the first offense.
2. Coaches are expected to teach playing within the rules. Failure to do so will subject both the coach and the employing club to discipline.
3. Game officials have been directed to emphasize protecting players from illegal and dangerous hits, and particularly from hits to the head and neck. In appropriate cases, they have the authority to eject players from a game.
ROGER GOODELL, Commissioner
We will have a round-up of the reaction from players and coaches to the NFL’s increased enforcement for these hits.