After a particularly brutal weekend of hard hits, everyone is talking about what the league can do to prevent further injuries like concussions. The ferocity on the field is getting way out of hand and it's good to see the league stepping up to try to stop it. During post-game analysis, hard-hitter Rodney Harrison discussed how all the fines he received couldn't stop him from sending the message that anyone who crossed his path during a game would pay the consequences; he'd set aside $50,000 before the season as a necessary investment to ensure that receivers shied away just a bit.
That's what made Rodney Harrison the all-pro he was - he guarded his area of the field like nobody else would. He was willing to go all-out, even if it mean paying for it in his pocket. What he says changed, though, is when the league suspended him for a game and he says he let his team down. Fellow analyst Tony Dungy agreed with Rodney's statement - it only matters to coaches when they lose their players. The fines don't make one bit of difference to coaches who won't step in until they've lost their starting safety for the week's game.
Harrison's message came in loud and clear. It helped make him the great player he was. But he stopped short of saying that he had the intent to hurt the other players. Not so for another Harrison, James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers who says:
"I don't want to injure anybody," Harrison said following Pittsburgh's 28-10 victory. "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."
I know that Harrison thinks that there's a key difference between the two things he talks about but in a practical sense it's really the same. And this is a reflection of a problem bigger than Harrison. We've developed all kinds of rules to help quarterbacks stay healthy amid massive hits from defensive linemen, yet those rules and provisions haven't dont much at all to keep quarterbacks on the field. The system of penalties and fines, as we've seen so clearly with Rodney Harrison, don't work as is. So it was inevitable that we'd see a generation of defenders who believe that it's their duty to shake up the opposing players in such a way that they can't perform as well.
Maybe James Harrison is just saying what has always existed inside locker rooms, a sense of aggressiveness and power that would leave the other team afraid, even just a little. But we've reached a point in the NFL where not only is that sentiment present behind closed doors, it can now be aired and even hailed as a standard for the best bone-crushing linebackers in the league. It's time to stop and scale back the message these players are deliberately and methodically sending.