In the NFL, networks should snuff out replays of illegal hits

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 12:45 PM

Looking for one more way to curb the number of dangerously flagrant helmet-to-helmet hits in the NFL? What about instituting a new rule for the league's television partners, one that would follow a policy the networks have used for years in other major sports.

Whenever an overzealous fan runs out on to the field in baseball, for example, the cameras almost always focus elsewhere, or they quickly cut to a commercial. The broadcasters in the booth may describe the foolishness, but will also tell the audience that they won't show the transgressor on television because it would encourage potential future miscreants from copycat actions.

So why not do the same for dangerous hits, at least in terms of replays, especially when far too many look-at-me athletes virtually scream, "I just made 'SportsCenter's' Top 10." That way, if a player knows that a replay won't ever appear on a Comcast or ESPN wrap-up show, for example, if they understand that their big bad selves won't be glorified on the local news at 6 or 11 or anywhere else, perhaps they might not be so eager to use such dangerous head-hunting tactics.

Obviously, there's no way to avoid airing those hits in the normal live telecast of the action. And in a perfect world, one replay would also be permissible, if only to show the audience exactly why the guilty player was flagged for unnecessary roughness, the better to fine him and now - under the league's new crackdown on flagrantly deliberate hits to the head - suspend him for a game or more, as well.

Likewise, studio productions - NFL pregame, halftime, postgame and highlight shows - also would be allowed to air the play once in order to inform viewers who may not have seen the play live. One replay and it's part of the news function of the telecast. Anything beyond that surely would have to be considered gratuitous and would not be allowed.

If that purely wishful-thinking formula had been in play this past weekend, there would have been gaping holes of time to fill on every pro football telecast. I can't tell you how often this past Sunday I saw those three vicious, concussion-inducing hits from 10 days ago that not only drew hefty fines for the guilty parties, but also led the league to finally say enough is enough. They were repeated over and over and over, literally ad nauseum, on every network that televises NFL games, and elsewhere, as well.

The bone-crushing nature of the game has always been a point of emphasis for television. How else to explain the exploding helmets that used to proceed every Monday night game on ABC and then ESPN going back to 1986. Thankfully, wiser heads decided that perhaps it wasn't such a hot idea this year considering all the recent research indicating the frightening long-term effects of such head-to-head collisions.

For a few years, ESPN's pregame show had a feature labeled "Jacked Up," featuring announcers ooohing and aaahing over particularly wicked shots, legal or not. That feature was dropped after the 2006 season, but that doesn't keep broadcasters at every network from still getting all jacked up themselves in their often breathless descriptions of spectacular collisions.

HBO's signature training camp series is titled "Hard Knocks" and this past summer, the show (produced by NFL Films) was infatuated with a Jets rookie fullback who was being called "The Terminator" as a term of endearment for his smash-mouth style of blocking. I can't recall anyone in the league office ever telling the late Jack Tatum, a long-ago Raiders defensive back, to stop referring himself as "The Assassin."

"We glorify those hits," Mark Schlereth, the former Redskins and Broncos lineman, said recently on ESPN, where he is now a football analyst. "We make money on those hits. That's what we do, and the NFL profits on that."

Still, the NFL's decision to strictly enforce already existing rules and, as Commissioner Roger Goodell said, to "do what you need to do to change the culture of the NFL," was long overdue. And never mind all those mindless active players now whining about turning their game into "flag football" contested by athletes who "wear pink," as Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder moaned very publicly last week. Obviously, someone has to protect far too many of these macho mopes from themselves.

Why is that?

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