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Talking to some people this weekend got me thinking that the average NFL football fan doesn’t care about concussions. Most NFL football fans only care about the blood, guts and glory of big hits that have been known to define the game of football, since the early stages of its existence.
English author and journalist, George Orwell equated the game of European Football (soccer) to war saying, “Football has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.”
In many ways, this quote by Orwell defines the game of American football as well. There have been countless and countless times when football players have said they want to hurt and injure opponents. During this past football season (2010) James Harrison of the Steelers was a perfect example. Just as a side note the 2010 season was one roughest on record. “468 players [were] placed on injured reserve, a 22 percent jump from 2009; [there were] 261 documented concussions, or almost 30 percent more than in 2008.”
Following a game in which he knocked out Browns receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi (with what the NFL saw as helmet-to-helmet collision) Harrison spoke of having the intent to hurt people on the football field yet not injure them.
Harrison was charged $75,000 for his hit Massaquoi. Harrison stated, “I don’t want to injure anybody. There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people.”
Despite this comment by Harrison, it is worth mentioning that football players get paid for big hits, because big hits are the plays that are often associated with causing fumbles. Therefore, big hits are also associated with winning and losing football games.
All of this begs the question: is James Harrison’s attitude uncalled for, or is he simply a player stuck within the inevitable realities of the game?
Some of Harrison’s comments in a recent Men’s Journal article make a whole lot of sense. He says in the article, “I get dinged about three times a year and don’t know where I am for a little minute. But unless I’m asleep, you’re not getting me out of the game…If a guy has a choice of hitting me high or low, hit me in the head and I’ll pay your fine. Just don’t hit me in the knee, ’cause that’s life-threatening. How’m I going to feed my family if I can’t run?”
The article about Harrison pointedly shows why concussions are becoming more of an issue and demonstrates why many football players might feel the same way Harrison does, preferring higher hits rather than lower. The article insightfully continues, “If you’ve been wondering why players hit higher than they used to, here’s as good a reason as any.
A concussion is, on average, a one-game injury, according to numbers kept by the league. But a torn medial collateral ligament is a season or more — and the NFL is the only major sport that refuses to guarantee contracts. Stack up the far-off prospect of brain damage against a voided $30 million, and most players will roll the dice on the former.”
Besides revealing that he would rather be hit in the head and pay a fine, than to be hit in the knee-which he correctly says is more threatening to a football players career than a concussion, Harrison also had some pretty offensive words directed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the least offensive of which was to call him a “crook and a puppet.”
However, Harrison made even more explicit and inappropriate comments regarding Goodell, saying, “If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it. I hate him and will never respect him.” He also was quoted using a very derogatory homosexual slur when referring to Goodell.
Harrison is clearly upset with the league and Goodell for the fines that players, like him, have had to pay for helmet-to-helmet hits. As Harrison probably sees it, these contact situations are a necessary evil of the game of football as it is played.
As I see it, there are two sides to this issue. Firstly, all players should be held to a high standard of personal conduct off the field as well as on it, despite the nature of the game. Therefore, I believe without hesitation that Harrison should be fined for these comments that he aimed at the Commissioner.
Also, I believe that players should receive guaranteed contracts and stable retirement plans that include optimal health benefits even after they have stopped playing the game. Players should not have to worry about where to hit and how it will affect them in the short or long term, nor should they have to push themselves to continue playing in a way that puts their lives at risk, just to keep their jobs.