Athletes — and the rest of us, for that matter — sometimes say things they don’t mean. They sometimes say things that can be misinterpreted. They sometimes appear to be saying something bad when perhaps they aren’t. (Hello, Dez Bryant!)
And sometimes their union steps in to explain what they meant. Hence the statement from the NFLPA’s DeMaurice Smith on Thursday, saying Meriweather was sorry for what he said. Meriweather confirmed the conversation but would not comment further — which is probably what the union told him to do — not comment further.
Meriweather’s comments on Monday seemed pretty clear. “To be honest, you’ve just got to go low now,” he said. “You’ve got to end people’s career. You’ve got to tear people’s ACLs and mess up people’s knees now. You can’t hit them [that] way, you can’t hit them high anymore. You’ve just got to go low.”
So is playing safety now like doing the limbo, but without the bamboo bar and the lively music? You know: How low can you go? Coach Mike Shanahan said that while he didn’t approve of Meriweather’s choice of words, he agreed with his general premise: Under rules designed to protect the head, defensive backs have nowhere else to go but down.
But does that necessarily have to lead to torn ACLs? Are these really the choices: career-ending head injuries or career-ending knee injuries? Because if that’s the case, the NFL might as well fold its tent right now. Speaking of the NFL, it said it didn’t intend to punish Meriweather for his remarks, but we’ll see how Roger Goodell responds after Meriweather follows through on his promise, intentionally or otherwise. (Meantime, let’s see if the league fines Denver’s Wesley Woodyard for his crown-of-the-helmet hit on Kirk Cousins’s chin — a breathtakingly illegal hit right in front of a referee that drew no flag.)
There seems to be a large part of the human anatomy that Meriweather seems to be unfamiliar with, unless the knee bone really is connected to the neck bone. And there are a number of safeties who seem to be able to make a living in the league without leaving a string of unconscious or limping bodies in their wake.
But there is no question that the new rules protecting players’ noggins mean a new approach by defensive backs, and that sometimes high or low are the only two targets available. But there are ways to tackle that don’t involve inflicting serious bodily harm. (Washington’s defenders occasionally display approaches to tackling that don’t involve contact of any kind. Very considerate.)
Meriweather’s latest suspension came after two hits in the victory over the Bears. He was flagged for leading with his head on both; one incident seemed a little questionable, and that’s probably why the suspension was reduced. But he was suspended because this is hardly his first brush with the NFL law. He knocked himself stem-winded earlier this season while trying to take a guy out. Once you have a string of priors (too many “Law and Order” reruns) it gets increasingly hard to plead innocence.
Meriweather’s play and his comments are both starting to seriously anger not only league officials but also players. The referees will be fling-happy with the yellow flags and there are opponents who will look to inflict some damage of their own. (Maybe Pierre Garcon can borrow one of Robert Griffin III’s knee braces.)
There’s a reason the NFLPA stepped in. NFL players may dislike each other, and they may resort to personal taunting — as Meriweather did to Brandon Marshall after the Bears game — but they are united on one issue: Don’t mess with my livelihood. Washington needs Meriweather this season — the team has no depth in the defensive backfield, and when he’s not suspended or unconscious, he brings a veteran presence and makes some good plays. But if the reckless abandonment continues on and off the field, it may be time, this offseason, to let Meriweather move on.
For more by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.