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Helmet-to-helmet hit may result in butt-to-bench, increased fines



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:


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.



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Originally published October 23, 2010 at 10:01 PM | Page modified October 23, 2010 at 10:11 PM

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Steve Kelley

Stiff penalties on headhunters is important in protecting NFL players

Hard hits, violent hits, are part of football. And injuries, even serious injuries, are inevitable. The league can’t legislate the violence out of the game, nor should it. But it has to protect the unprotected and it has to punish the players who launch themselves head-first into receivers and running backs and quarterbacks.

Seattle Times staff columnist

For many years, when sportswriters stayed at the same hotel with the team, I watched the Seahawks players climb onto their buses before riding to the stadium for their Sunday road games.

That afternoon they would play their most dangerous game and I couldn’t help wondering which players would finish the day healthy or hurt, or even hospitalized.

Every game, they put their lives and livelihoods on the line the way athletes in most other sports never do, and I’ve always admired their grace under that enormous pressure.

Football is a violent game, and the players of the NFL accept that fact every day when they run onto the practice field, every Sunday when they board their buses and every game day when they collide at high speeds and with intimidating intent.

In the past few years, groundbreaking research has led to an increased awareness of the dangers and the long-term physical costs for the players who play this game.

We now know that the effects of the thunderous hits we see on Sunday might not fully be realized by the players absorbing those hits until later decades. The hits they take in their 20s can lead to serious health issues in their 40s and 50s.

NFL players are dying young. They are suffering from ALS, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Some former players’ suicides have been linked to head trauma they suffered while playing in the NFL.

To its credit, the league has begun paying serious attention to the damage that can be done from head trauma. Finally, the seriousness of concussions is being addressed. We no longer hear jokes on the air about a player “getting his bell rung.”

But now the league is struggling to find the answer to a complicated riddle.

The NFL, which has celebrated the violence in its game because that violence is so much a part of football’s attraction, is trying to find a way to legislate against the most violent helmet-to-helmet hits. A 15-yard penalty, or a five-figure fine, aren’t enough.

Last weekend, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison knocked two Cleveland Browns out of the game.

Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson hit Philadelphia receiver DeSean Jackson and both were on the ground after the play. Jackson has no memory of the hit.


The most dangerous strike came from New England safety Brandon Meriweather, who knocked out Baltimore tight end Todd Heap, after the front of Meriweather’s helmet crashed into the left side of Heap’s.