Hitting Back At The Helmet Hitters

Though I’m not a huge football fanatic (you won’t see me out at the stadium in –20 degree weather with a bare chest painted with the team colors), I’d like to think of myself as being as much of a Pittsburgh Steelers fan as anyone else who takes some minute pride in at least being born in the Pittsburgh area.  The years I’ve spent living in Philadelphia have taught me that a) Philly is a nicer area for some, and b) there’s something to be said for the dream of seeing what I’ve long termed a “Turnpike Super Bowl” where the Steelers and the Eagles would meet up in some glorious Super Bowl some time – then I wouldn’t care who won.

Notwithstanding all the pennant-waving and car-flag-flying of the Black ‘n Gold, as a nurse, I need to draw a line in the sand when it comes to people actually getting hurt.  I’ve always been one to cheer for the poor unfortunate injured player, who may spend anywhere from a few moments to over 10 minutes laid out on the grass, when he finally gets up either of his own power or with the help of the trainers and medics.

For some reason, injury is a great leveler.  It doesn’t matter if the player is on your own team, or the opposition, and it makes no difference whether or not the opposition is the most hated “rival” in all of the sport.  Somehow, the fact that a player, another human being, has been injured (regardless of the severity) brings out the humanity in us spectators that want to see that person recover and return to play.

That is, it should bring out the humanity in all of us.  I do know of a couple of “die-hard” Steeler fans who I have heard derogatory comments directly from them when an opposition player was injured.  One even went so far as to say he hoped the injured player would “die”.  Though I’m certain that the NFL and every other major sport has their so-called “fans” who delight in the harm caused to opposing players, I like to think such people are the minority.  In any case, to such people I’d say: wait until YOU’RE in that situation of being injured somehow, and see if anyone else cares.  What goes around, comes around.

Now with that little bit out of the way, it filled me with some sense of righteous indignation when I saw the reports of Steelers linebacker James Harrison being fined $75,000 for a helmet-tackle to Cleveland Browns’ receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, that resulted in Massaquoi suffering a concussion during the October 17th game.

Looking at the multiplicity of replays on every news channel from ESPN to the local news, there is no doubt that Harrison deliberately launched himself helmet-first into Massaquoi.  The fact that the officials didn’t flag him for that play is of little consequence to the fact that Massaquoi suffered a concussion for a needless tackle, when arm contact would have been just as effective, and much more safe.

Now, before anyone starts whining that I’m some kind of wuss for not understanding the game, I know full well and accept the fact that football is a contact sport, there are hard-hitting tackles that take place, and there is an element of risk involved, people can get injured under the safest of playing.  But the point I’m making is that every player should obviously know those risks, and purposely take it upon themselves to play the game as hard as they can, while at the same time making every attempt to avoid injury to themselves and those they’re hitting as much as possible (which I understand is not always easy or possible).

But the difference here is that Harrison’s tackle in question wasn’t a case of “whoops, I tripped on someone else and flew head first”, nor was it a case of “sorry, I didn’t mean to wail you with my helmet.”  The video evidence is clear: Harrison deliberately intended to head-butt Massaquoi.  It’s THAT type of playing that should be dealt with harshly.

Harrison himself seems to make no apology for the hit and the subsequent injury.  After the game, the AP quoted him as saying:

"I don’t want to injure anybody… There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people."

– James Harrison, Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers

Harrison was later quoted on Sirius/XM radio as saying:

"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."

– James Harrison, as quoted on Sirius/XM Radio

In other words, Harrison deliberately goes out of his way in the games he plays to knock opposing players out of the game, by whatever means he can muster.  It also seems that he never learned the actual difference between the words “hurt” and “injure” since he seems to think there’s a “big difference” between the two.  I’d like Harrison to join me in the ER some time, I’ll show him example after example that there’s actually LITTLE difference between “hurt” and “injure”.  No matter what word you choose to use to describe it, trauma to the human body is still trauma, and still requires time and interventions in order to heal.

I’d also like to know what series of “geniuses” taught Harrison how to play with such utter disregard for other players that he feels he is “handicapped” if he actually plays safely.  Coaches that teach young players that the only good hit is a hard bone-crunching hit, should not only be ashamed of themselves, they should be fired from their positions, whether they’re volunteers or not.

So, Harrison got fined, and for a while it looked like he was playing the “I’m taking my marbles and going home” baby game by threatening to retire… a foregone conclusion that he wouldn’t, since he’d have to pay back some of the $20 million the team gave him upfront for his fat contract last year.

But go figure, just like “Steeler Nation” comes out and supports QB Ben Roethlisberger despite alleged misdeeds of a sexual nature in the off-season, whining that a 4-game suspension somehow wasn’t fair, it seems lots of Steeler fans are aghast at the prospect of one of their players getting a $75,000 hit, again crying foul and swearing on Facebook and other social networking sites against the league.

Personally, I think $75,000 is chump change in exchange for the whacking that Massaquoi got.  Am I the only one in Pittsburgh who feels that Harrison got off LIGHT?  For a player who’s worth a $51.2 million, six-year contract (from April 2009), $75 grand is a parking ticket.

Did anyone seem to forget Harrison’s deliberate pouncing of Titans QB Vince Young in September for which he was fined $5,000 by the league?  Or the $5,000 fine last season for unnecessary roughness from a late hit on Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth? Or the $20,000 fine he drew in 2008 for criticizing a roughing-the-passer penalty against him?

Need we continue to go back further into his “20-plus” year history of playing football, and dig up how many other times he’s deliberately injured and whacked out opposing players?  Would we see such a long history of malicious and selfish behaviour that even the staunchest supporter of Harrison would begin crying for Tomlin to start reigning him in?

Speaking of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, he seriously needs to get over his bad case of “two-faced-itis”.  In one breath he praises Harrison for making the hits he does, and with the next breath tries to suck up to the league by coming out in support of tougher penalties for violent hits.  Make up your mind, Mike.  Many of us would love to be able to have it both ways, but rarely (if ever) can we live comfortably with diametrically opposed positions at the same time… or did you forget that little quote in a very famous book that goes, “what fellowship does light have with darkness?”

Let’s look at Harrison’s injurious behavior another way.  If each menacing, deliberate, malicious slam to another player on the field were a drunk driving accident, Harrison would not just have had his license permanently revoked; he’d be in prison serving a long sentence for the utter mayhem he’d caused to innocent drivers and pedestrians.  Maybe the NFL should start looking at Harrison and his type of player in that regard.  One serious injury (and make NO mistake: a concussion is a serious injury to anyone, not just football players) gets you slapped with a fine.  Two gets you a bigger fine.  Three gets you suspended for the season (yes, the season).  Four “strikes”, and you’re out of the NFL, and too bad if you have to pay back contract monies to your team.  Such a structure should be standard in the NFL.  Then there would be no doubt and no question in anyone’s mind, players need to follow the rules.  Just like in society and anywhere else in life, follow the rules, you’ll be fine.  Disregard the rules, and you’re out.

In my view, James Harrison and his kind in the NFL are not an asset, they are a menace.  They shouldn’t be fined: they should be kicked out of the league.  If he was taught to play the game so roughly that injuries are something to give little thought to, what is he teaching the young generation of football players who look up to the pros and idolize them as stars to emulate?  Our children don’t need to be idolizing and emulating people like James Harrison… they need to be learning how NOT to be like Harrison, and how to play the game safely and well.

Though I’d think that opinion on this issue from other players in the NFL may be more subtle for various reasons, I did come across a quote from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.  When he was told that Harrison was contemplating retirement over the issue, he joked,

“I’d love to for him to retire.  If he retired, it would make me very happy."

– Tom Brady, Quarterback, New England Patriots

Now believe me, I’m no Patriots fan… but I’m with you there, Tom.