Things I learned this week: football is violent. I also learned that people, in general, are dumb. The media-generated backlash from a weekend full of helmet-to-helmet hits has had basically the same effect Karl Rove’s media machine had on unsuspecting dipshits during the first half of George W. Bush’s administration.
I’m not trying to turn this into a political discussion and, frankly, I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, Tea Party or Whig. Here’s my point: sometimes folks grab a pitchfork and join the mob without considering exactly what it is they’re railing against. And that’s exactly what happened after a handful of “holy shit” helmet-to-helmet collisions in Week 6.
So, naturally, the first order of business was to blow everything out of proportion and act as if it’s just now dawned on us that, you know, football is violent. And once that was established, it was only logical to conclude that suspensions for repeat, flagrant offenders would be the only suitable solution. To send them the message that helmet-to-helmet hits won’t be tolerated.
(By the way, it’s gotten to the point that I don’t even know what the rules are. If James Harrison had been flagged for both the Cribbs and Massaquoi hits I wouldn’t have been surprised or upset. But the NFL’s Greg Aiello said after the game that the Cribbs hit was legal, although the Massquoi hit was being reviewed. And if it turns out that Harrison is a little lighter in the wallet for the latter, that’s fine too. Officials have flagged similar-looking plays before. But let’s not make him out to be a serial killer. Whether you want to admit it or not, the NFL markets violence because people like it. Just pointing out what should already be obvious but clearly isn’t.)
This isn’t a diatribe against keeping guys safe. It’s a diatribe against faulty logic and overreactions. Helmet-to-helmet hits have been a part of football, well, forever. Rodney Harrison was suspended eight years ago for a helmet-to-helmet hit against Jerry Rice. And you know what? When he returned from suspension he was still a dirty player who still got fined for — you guessed it — dirty hits.
And that leads me to this: where’s the research that suggests that suspending players is some kind of long-term deterrent? I mean, if we’re serious about player safety and removing these types of plays from the game, shouldn’t we have some notion about whether a punishment works before we proclaim that we’re serious about it?
Not only that, Roger Goodell’s doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to punishments fitting the crime. If anything, his approach can best be described at haphazard. That might make for good PR (“He’s coming down hard on offenders!”) but again, there’s no proof that randomly assigning punishments actually reduces crime. Isn’t that sorta the point?
And while I’ve heard countless times in the past few days that nobody cares more about player safety than Goodell, I have a hard time reconciling that with the fact that an 18-game schedule seems very likely in 2012.
Here’s Goodell in August: “We want to do it the right way for everyone, including the players, the fans and the game in general,” Goodell said. “There’s a tremendous amount of momentum for [an 18-game schedule]. We think it’s the right step.”
If this is the champion for safety, the players are in deep shit. Let me know when Goodell and the NFL quit talking out of both sides of their mouth.