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NFL to fine, suspend players for helmet-to-helmet hits

The National Football League announced Tuesday that it will fine players who deliver possibly injurious hits to the head, whether or not the hit is flagged as a foul in violation of NFL rules, news agencies are reporting.

The New York Times quoted Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin, whose player, James Harrison, was fined $50,000 under the new crackdown, as saying, "I think it is the proper initiative that the NFL has. I think we need to safeguard the men that play this game to the best of our abilities and make it as safe as we can. I'm a proponent of player safety and whatever rule or rule adjustments we need to make to make it safer."

In fining three players a total of $175,000, the NFL warned that flagrant hits to the head will be possible grounds for the suspension of players, beginning with this Sunday's games.

James Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, spoke to ESPN, which reported he called the fine "staggering" and said it would be appealed. "I've talked to James, and he's very upset," ESPN quoted him as saying. "He's quite confused about how to play football."

Rules are given, but officiating in the NFL is generally considered to be slightly inconsistent. Here's the rule about hitting a wide receiver:

If a receiver has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself, a defensive player is prohibited from launching (springing forward and upward) into him in a way that causes the defensive player's helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm to forcibly strike the receiver's head or neck area — even if the initial contact of the defender's helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm is lower than the receiver's neck.

Hits that violate this rule should receive a penalty for unnecessary roughness, which is 15 yards and an automatic first down. But the calling of this penalty is often a subjective call, as one former coach points out:

"I think most of the time you can look at a play as a coach and say, 'You know what? That didn't have to happen,' " ESPN quoted Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren as saying. He is also the former Seattle and Green Bay coach. "And then sometimes you look at a play and say, 'Unavoidable. It was just one of those things.' I don't know if they are going to make that distinction yet, and I think it's a very important distinction."

Still others have said fines of $50,000 will hardly be a deterrent, especially for players who make $20 million over a three-year contract.

Related Links

Original AP story via ESPN.com

Original story by Judy Battista in the New York Times

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By Paul Katula, Voxitatis Research Foundation