NFL's new enforcement of rules against illegal hits is not a hit with players

NFL games Sunday featured a staggering array of head injuries on helmet-to-helmet hits.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 11:59 PM

The NFL's newly toughened enforcement of rules against dangerous illegal hits has been greeted less than enthusiastically by the very people the league is attempting to protect: the players.

Current and former players were critical Wednesday of the league's announcement that it would escalate the penalties for players who deliver illegal blows, including possible suspensions, even for first offenses. The NFL's announcement Monday came a day after an alarming series of hits in Sunday's games left several players with head injuries.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, one of three players fined Tuesday by the league for illegal hits Sunday, threatened to retire, and other players said Wednesday they long ago accepted that the sport they play is perilous.

"It's a dangerous game," New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "It really is. I think we all signed up for this game knowing that it's dangerous. . . . Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt. That's not why we play the game. But we also know the physical nature of this sport is that people do get hurt."

Brady said at his weekly news conference that "sometimes I guess guys cross the line" and he accepted that league officials would "enforce the rules however they see fit."

Harrison was less accommodating a day after he was fined $75,000 for a hit Sunday on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.

"There's nothing really else I can do and that's why I'm so frustrated," Harrison said in a Sirius satellite radio interview. "How can I continue to play this game the way that I've been taught to play this game since I was 10 years old? And now you're telling me that everything that they've taught me from that time on, for the last 20-plus years, is not the way you're supposed to play the game any more. If that's the case, I can't play by those rules. You're handicapping me."

Harrison was excused from the Steelers' practice Wednesday amid reports that he was contemplating retirement. The Steelers, however, expect him back at practice Thursday.

Harrison also knocked another Browns wide receiver, Joshua Cribbs, from last Sunday's game with a legal helmet-to-helmet hit on a running play. Cribbs wrote on Twitter that he had "no bad will" toward Harrison. He called the hit part of the game and wrote: "It is unfortunate, but our sport is brutal."

Washington Redskins cornerback Carlos Rogers called the fines "ridiculous" and said: "Some guys, it wasn't even head to head. It was just a tough collision. That happens in football. We're playing football. It's not Pop Warner. It's not flag."

Mark Schlereth, a former offensive lineman for the Redskins and Denver Broncos who now is an NFL analyst for ESPN, said on the cable network that the league was being hypocritical. The hits help make the sport popular, Schlereth said on the air, and he suggested that players should play two-hand-touch games this weekend and gauge fan interest in that.

"I'm sorry people get hurt," Schlereth said on ESPN. "But that's the game we signed up for."

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