James Harrison: Were His Devastating Hits Legal or Not?

John ListonContributor IOctober 19, 2010

DENVER - AUGUST 29:  Linebacker James Harrison #92 and defensive end Brett Keisel #99 of the Pittsburgh Steelers lead the defense against the Denver Broncos during preseason NFL action at INVESCO Field at Mile High on August 29, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Steelers 34-17.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

James Harrison is part of an epidemic, that being the concussion epidemic that is robbing NFL teams of their stars due to serious head trauma.

Kevin Kolb, Jay Cutler and DeSean Jackson have all been forced to their team's respective benches this season by head injuries.

Sunday, the epidemic continued to spread, and now the NFL's stance on helmet-to-helmet hits is on center stage.

Harrison played a willing part on Sunday with two bone-crushing, helmet-to-helmet hits on Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Harrison himself claim both hits were legal, and while the NFL agrees that the hit on Cribbs was legal, the league is reviewing the hit on Massaquoi.

Why are there so many concussions in the league today? Well, for one, the players are getting bigger and faster every season. This leads to more powerful defenders colliding with offensive players who are moving at faster speeds than ever before.

Another aspect of the rise in head injuries is simply awareness. Gone are the days when concussions warranted sitting out a few plays to regain orientation.

With the advances in neuroscience over the past few decades, the terrible impact of head injuries on their victims is now beginning to be understood.

Now that concussions are finally being understood, the NFL is beginning to impose suspensions on players who headhunt.

Should Harrison have faced suspension, ejection or—at the very least—a flag for his hit over the weekend? The answer? A resounding "yes."

Harrison has been quoted as saying, "There's a difference. When you're injured, you can't play. But when you're hurt, you can shake it off and come back. I try to hurt people."

So according to Harrison, he has the ability to determine at game speed whether a bone-crushing hit will sideline his opponent for a few plays, a few weeks or a few years.

This is impossible to believe and part of the reason Harrison needs to be disciplined. Harrison is out there trying to inflict pain, and what is the easiest way to inflict pain? Hitting somebody helmet-to-helmet.

One of the most interesting aspects about hitting helmet-to-helmet is that is it completely unnecessary.

If a player is able to launch themselves with enough force to come in at an opponent at the height of his helmet, then it is actually easier to hit them square in the chest.

In fact, helmet-to-helmet hitting has long been regarded as more of an act of showmanship than any sort of fundamental tackling.

So in review, helmet-to-helmet hits are not the most effective way to tackle somebody and are also extremely dangerous for both players involved.

So why are they legal? The NFL claims to be stepping up its watch, so look for an increase in penalties, ejections and suspensions in the coming months.

If the NFL does not do enough, however, more and more stars may see the primes of their careers shortened by concussions.

And let me ask you this, what's more entertaining? A bone-rattling, helmet-to-helmet hit that shortens the career of Michael Vick, for instance, or a few more years of watching one of the game's most electrifying players on the gridiron?