Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard are right. If defenders want to avoid fines, then they must avoid dangerous hits to the head. But if they aim lower at the legs, then they could end a player's career due to a knee injury.
I could have tackled him high, but if I had hit him high, I probably would have gotten a helmet-to-helmet or something and gotten fined. So I hit him low and strained his MCL. ... They're saying it's a life-threatening injury to hit a guy in the head and he gets a concussion and so on and so forth, but I think a life-threatening injury is to go low on a guy and blow out his ACL or whatever, and he's not able to come back the way he was before. Now he can't make a living, he can't feed his family, he can't do what he does. That's life-threatening to me.
Football is a violent sport and there's no way to get around that. All the latest data indicates that continued head trauma leads to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Logically, if players don't accept the risk, then they shouldn't play the game.
President Obama said that if football were to become less violent, then "those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much." But I honestly don't believe fans are compassionate for player safety. That's not to say that we aren't saddened when we hear a former player do something outlandish, only to find out later that he suffered from CTE.
Yet, boxers are subject to the same brutal punishment, but there is no public outcry that the sport is too dangerous. Can anyone think of a league that has grown in popularity more than the UFC? Fox bought broadcasting rights to bring it to the national spotlight.
I'm reminded of a scene in "Shutter Island" when the warden says, "God loves violence. ... It's in us. It's what we are. We wage war, we burn sacrifices, and pillage and plunder and tear at the flesh of our brothers. And why? Because God gave us violence to wage in His honor."
Let's be realistic. As much as we love huge touchdowns, the reason some fans love football is because it's aggressive and violent. Fans can say they love the offensive aspect of the game as much as they want, but they would sing a different tune if it was just 22 men playing flag football.
Pollard said, "Guys are getting fined, and they're talking about, 'Let's take away the strike zone' and 'Take the pads off' or 'Take the helmets off.' It's going to be a thing where fans aren't going to want to watch it anymore."
Now that we've established it's not about examining our consciences, how can the game be safer while keeping the violence we love?
They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. The reason why players like Pollard complain about the new rules is because they were not bred to play that way. Their tackling philosophy can be more closely identified as "by any means necessary."
So changing player safety really starts with children being taught how to hit. Once coaches establish the strike zone, then the new wave of NFL players will enter the league knowing the proper tackling techniques. It's about ingraining these mechanics into these children so that it becomes natural.
Understandably, there are two major issues with this idea. The first is that when the adrenaline is pumping, it's hard for a player not to dish out his most punishing hit. That's why below-the-neck hits shouldn't be second nature—they should be first. These mechanics should be so ingrained that they precede the impulse to concuss an opponent.
Secondly, it's also much harder to regulate this violence since the national governing bodies for youth and high school programs cannot actually punish players like the NFL does for illegal hits. Even the NCAA doesn't have a protocol to reprimand players for these hits. Instead, it's left in the hands of the player's school.
Improvements need to made at the youth level to train players to hit hard safely and legally so we can keep the game we love beyond the next 30 years.