Commentary

NFL taking a hard line on illegal hits

From now on, repeat offenders won't just have to pay up, they'll sit down too

Originally Published: September 20, 2013
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Suspensions are coming. Repeat offenders, be warned.

For those players who continue to lead with their heads, who continue to deliver helmet-to-helmet hits, who continue to hit defenseless players or who continue to rack up unnecessary-roughness penalties, the NFL is going to take away more than just money. It is going to take those players off the field. It is going to take those players away from their team. It is going to take game checks, yes, but more importantly, it is going to remove the players from the arena, from their teammates, from the fans and from the action.

Or at least the league is going to try.

In the NFL's view, that is the only way to get a select few players' attention. Fines aren't working. Simply losing money, even if it is a significant amount, isn't an effective-enough deterrent. Fines aren't persuading some players to alter their playing style. The NFL is trying to change the culture. It is trying to make the game safer. That is the priority. The league is not going to tolerate resistance.

So suspensions are next.

Ndamukong Suh, are you listening? Dashon Goldson? Bernard Pollard? Kareem Jackson? You -- and others -- are on notice.

"I would call them a resistant minimum number of players," said Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations. "The repeat offenders do not get any benefit of the doubt, particularly when you talk about the hits on defenseless players that we're trying to get out of the game.

"You need to know that if you're a repeat offender and you have one of these hits against a defenseless player that we're trying to get out of the game, you can look at a suspension as a much more probable outcome for you. Then it's up to you to convince somebody else that you weren't as violative of the rules as we at the league office may have determined you were. And good luck with that."

[+] EnlargeDashon Goldson
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY SportsDashon Goldson has already been disciplined twice by the NFL this season.

The NFL suspended Goldson, Tampa Bay's safety, for one game after his Week 2 helmet-to-helmet hit on New Orleans running back Darren Sproles. Goldson hit Sproles after an incomplete pass over the middle of the field. Goldson appealed the suspension to former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, who now is an independent appeals officer appointed by the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

Birk reduced the suspension, which would have cost Goldson approximately $265,000, to a $100,000 fine. It was Goldson's second fine of the season. The first, for $30,000, came after another Goldson helmet-to-helmet hit in the season opener against the Jets.

In all, Goldson has been flagged for 15 unnecessary roughness penalties since 2010, the most by any player in the NFL. Suh has an appeals hearing on Tuesday to contest the $100,000 fine the league levied after he delivered a low block on Minnesota Vikings lineman John Sullivan in Detroit's season opener.

Suh is appealing the fine as excessive. Like Goldson, Suh has a history of illicit on-the-field behavior. In 2011, the NFL suspended Suh for two games after he stomped on Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. Suh has also been fined for roughing up Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, among others.

Pollard, the Tennessee safety, was fined $42,000 last week for a shoulder-to-head hit on Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson that took Johnson out of the game. Likewise, Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson was fined $42,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Tennessee wide receiver Kendall Wright in the same game. Jackson's hit drew a flag; Pollard's did not.

Anderson said the league was not deterred by the fact that Birk reduced Goldson's suspension to a hefty fine.

"We will continue to be diligent and relentless in making our determinations when we believe from video review that the player has administered a hit against our rules on a defenseless player," Anderson said.

"To the extent that an appeals officer in his review determines that we were too aggressive in our discipline, then so be it," Anderson added. "But that's why you have that process. You can have different opinions. Sometimes he's going to differ on his opinion. We're willing to live with that. We're not going to worry about how the appeals officer may react if we see repeat behavior."

The players won't like it. For several years now, defensive players have been outraged by the rules changes geared toward protecting players on offense. They believe that the league has unfairly tilted the playing field toward the offense and that it essentially has turned a violent sport into two-hand touch.

The NFL, however, does not care that players are upset. Finally, after decades of ignoring the fact that football often adversely affects the lives of the men who play it, the league is trying to make an unsafe game safer. Finally, it is doing the right thing.

Some players are resisting. Continued resistance will cost them games, because losing money alone isn't working.

"Players want to play," Anderson said. "They don't want to be off the field. That's where they do their thing. If they're not allowed to do their thing on Sunday … that's a deterrent."

Repeat offenders, be warned.

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