Rutgers' Eric LeGrand lays in a hospital bed this week. Paralyzed, maybe, for a lengthy period. Meanwhile, I hear talking heads arguing about outlawing NFL head shots and their effect on the "quality" of NFL play.
Seems to be a disconnect here.
These are actually otherwise intelligent human beings worried about how the NFL will "look" if it is reduced to arm tackling. Trust me, it will look fine, great even. The argument against enforcing NFL rules against headshots harkens back to the age-old arguments about reducing the number of college scholarships in football. Coaches back then also warned that the "quality" of play would be impacted. Their credibility was shot over the last two decades when the college game has become better and more popular than ever. Seems that the game has survived with less than 100 scholarships per team.
Let's worry, more realistically, about the survival of LeGrand and those like him. The Rutgers junior had bad tackling form against Army. The result was paralysis. LeGrand wasn't trying to show off or send a message or intimidate. He made a mistake. During the same week that he continues to lay motionless in that hospital bed, there is a national argument about sending those messages and intimidating in the NFL.
Someone needs to get LeGrand's situation into the argument. Maybe James Harrison needs to pay a visit to the hospital and see how he feels afterward. We are to believe that the league will be neutered if it cannot express itself physically. Do you really want to intimidate that bad? Do you really want another Eric LeGrand?
The resounding answer -- whether spoken or unspoken -- by hundreds of aggressive males in their 20s in the NFL is yes. You cannot separate one question from the other. You cannot dispute the indisputable. The size of the field remains the same. The players are bigger, faster and stronger. A lot of them don't think about such things as Darryl Stingley's tragic life after the Raiders' Jack Tatum targeted him. They rail against the league trying to reign in the likes of Harrison, the Steelers linebacker, who took out two Browns Sunday then said, "I try to hurt people."
The statement mocks not only the rules but LeGrand. It's clear now that there is a generation of players who have been raised to use their heads as a weapon. Never mind that they are putting their bodies as well as their opponents' bodies at risk. They are acting like punks. They are turning a grand game into a street fight. A punk head-butts. A football player tackles. A punk dances over the prone body of a receiver. A football player makes the stick, high fives his teammates and heads back to the huddle.
No, but this is the NFL where television, the traditional media and the players themselves glorify a corner of the league where a sick culture resides.
College football long ago tried to legislate the punk factor out of the game. Next year points will be taken off the board if an offensive player taunts during a scoring play. College rules are more inclusive in trying to eliminate head shots. I have no problem with the "targeting" rule that puts the issue up to an official's discretion. A flag can be thrown not only for a head shot but if a player is in vulnerable position.
Maybe that wouldn't have stopped LeGrand. As mentioned, the 6-foot-2, 275-pounder was guilty of nothing more than bad tackling form. Meanwhile, there is a generation of players being raised to inflict damage, not just do their jobs as defenders. If they're not punks, they do punk things on the football field. That has to be stopped.
What's wrong if the NFL is reduced to a league of arm tacklers? It's the same argument the college coaches had 20 years ago. My counter-argument was: It doesn't matter who many scholarships there are. If you suited up 22 chimps in Nebraska and Oklahoma uniforms would still pay to watch.
If the NFL was cleaned up and everyone was playing by the same rules, you think it would matter at the turnstile? They're still the best football players in the world. The more of them around, the better for everyone. Ask Eric LeGrand. He won't be one of them.