Series of head injuries prompts NFL to crack down on illegal hits
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
A day after an unusual series of player head injuries shocked football fans and alarmed the sport's officials, the National Football League vowed Monday to crack down on dangerous, illegal hits with more severe disciplinary measures.
Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, said players could be suspended without pay for illegal hits to an opponent's head - even for a first offense - a stronger measure than the fines that apparently have had little effect on the problem. The new sanctions will begin this weekend.
"We need to dispel the notion that you get a free pass for a first offense," Anderson said. "We're going to another level of accountability."
Sunday appeared to be one of the worst days in recent memory for player head injuries, though recent league-wide efforts to protect athletes may mean there is now closer scrutiny and more careful accounting of the blows.
It came at a time of heightened concern over head injuries in many sports, from youth leagues to the professional ranks, and a day after a Rutgers University player was paralyzed below the neck while making a tackle on a kickoff return. On Tuesday, officials from all levels of hockey will meet in an attempt to reduce the frequency of head injuries in that sport.
The victims of Sunday's mayhem included Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, one of the team's most popular players and its second-leading receiver, who suffered a concussion in the team's loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson suffered a severe concussion when he was leveled by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson, who was injured himself in the collision. Both players lay on the field for several minutes before they were helped off.
Two Cleveland Browns players, wide receivers Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi, suffered head injuries on second-quarter hits by Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Detroit Lions linebacker Zack Follett was immobilized, taken from the field on a cart and hospitalized overnight after a helmet-to-helmet hit with a New York Giants player on a kickoff. The NFL's crackdown would not apply to that hit, but the league has enacted other measures in recent years to try to make kickoffs safer.
"It seemed like every time you turned around, there was another player on the ground for an extended period," Anderson said. "We feel compelled to be aggressive and proactive. We don't want another Darryl Stingley on one of our fields."
Stingley, a wide receiver with the New England Patriots, suffered a broken neck in an on-field collision with Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum during an exhibition game in August 1978 and was left a quadriplegic. He spent the remainder of his life in a wheelchair and died in 2007 at age 55. Tatum's hit was legal under the sport's rules at the time.
The violence and resulting injuries brought calls for action from several quarters, including former New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, a ferocious tackler during his years in the league.
"You didn't get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand," Harrison said on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" telecast, according to a written transcript provided by the network. "You got my attention when I got suspended and I had to get away from my teammates and I disappointed my teammates [for] not being there.