61 : What The French Toast?! Reactions from Episode 60

If only cleaning up dirty hits were as easy as chewing some Orbit gum...

Last week in Episode 60, I discussed a hit by New York Giants veteran defensive back, Leon Hall on Green Bay Packers wide receiver, Jordy Nelson.  Nelson was diagnosed with fractured ribs as a result of the hit.  I described this hit as being "dirty" and I then when on to talk about how the NFL missed an opportunity to change the self sacrificial culture that exists in football and protect future players. In both criticizing and defending Leon Hall's actions on the field, I discussed an article written in 2009 by Malcolm Gladwell titled, How Different are Football and Dog Fighting?  I highly suggest reading/listening to Episode 60 and watching the video of the hit below before continuing with this article/episode.

I always want to hear listener's feedback on each episode, but I was particularly interested in what people had to say about this hit.  I never want to come off as being anti-football because frankly, I love football.  Some of my best memories come from playing football as a kid and I want every kid to have the opportunity to play the game, but in the safest possible way.  In my humble opinion, the best way to do that is by changing the culture.  After posting Episode 60, I proceeded to tag as many Facebook friends as possible, who I thought might have an opinion on the subject.  Being from NJ, I received responses from Giants fans, friends I grew up playing football with, football Dads, former youth football coaches, current high school coaches, a former division 1 college football equipment manager and even one New York Giants beat writer.  I screen shotted all of the comments and some trends definitely came up, which I discuss in length in Episode 61.

Define Dirty...

From most of the comments, the definition of 'dirty' was always in question.  What makes a hit dirty or clean?  Most consider a hit to be dirty if the player's intention was to injure an opponent on a particular play.  Unfortunately, there is no way to go into someone's head and replay what they were thinking at the moment of impact.  So by this definition, it is nearly impossible to ever call any hit 'dirty.'  However, I feel a more appropriate description of the type of hit that we would all like to see removed from the game are UNNECESSARY & AVOIDABLE hits on defenseless players.  My definition of an unnecessary hit would expand the current unnecessary roughness rules to include any hit at or below the knees, any hit to the head or neck, and all hits where contact is initiated with the helmet or facemask on defenseless receivers.  

The rules listed below can be found in the PLAYER CONDUCT section of the NFL Rulebook

ARTICLE 6. UNNECESSARY ROUGHNESS.  One of the descriptors of the penalty is "using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily."

ARTICLE 7. PLAYERS IN A DEFENSELESS POSTURE. It is a foul if a player initiates unnecessary contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture. (a) Players in a defenseless posture are: (1) A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass (passing posture). (2) A receiver attempting to catch a pass who has not had time to clearly become a runner. If the player is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player.

As someone who played the game for 10 years and spent at least 4 years working in the game, I whole heartedly believe that defenders can just as easily put their heads to the side of a defenseless receivers body as they can ram their facemask or helmet into their body's. This is where the AVOIDABLE part of my definition comes into play.  I felt that the hit on Jordy Nelson was easily avoidable because he was not capable of warding off impending contact.  Players shouldn't get away with dangerous hits just because they chose not to go helmet to helmet. When it comes to defenseless receivers, there is a choice. 

It was wrong of me to insinuate that Leon Hall had malice in his intentions going into that hit, but I still think it was Unnecessary & Avoidable.

Fear Factor...

I fully understand that fear and intimidation is a major part of the game of football.  I also feel this is one of the great lessons football teaches.  It's uncomfortable to jump up and catch a ball fully knowing you are about to get crushed by a linebacker, just like it is uncomfortable to stand in front of a hundred people and present a speech.  If you are comfortable, you're not growing and football teaches you to embrace discomfort. There is a reason why the term "alligator arms" exists, because the defense never wants the receivers to feel too comfortable out there.  The short reach comes from the fear in the back of the receiver's head, which is saying "forget the ball, save yourself!"  I still think you can send this message without sticking your facemask or helmet into a receivers rules because in these 'alligator arms' situations, the receivers are almost always defenseless. Use your shoulder, thats why you wear shoulder pads.

Technique...

Personally, I was never taught to use my head as a point of contact at any level of play.  We were always taught to "bite the ball", which requires you to keep your head up.  We were however taught to get our heads across when making tackles from perpendicular angles, which essentially uses your head as an extra limb.  According to the comments (above) made by LF Vanorski, who is a high school football coach, that is no longer the case.  I can remember one tackle I made in particular when I got my head across to make a form tackle and definitely cleared out the cobwebs in the process.  To be honest, getting your head across in those situations is the most effective way to ensure the ball carrier doesn't break your tackle, but at what cost? These techniques are taught to maximize safety, especially when it comes to protecting the head and neck.

Although I was taught the proper safe tackling techniques for the time period by my coaches, I definitely witnessed some that made me scratch my head while working in college and professional football.  Specifically blitz pick-up techniques that used, what I would consider the crown of the helmet, as a point of contact.  Even the hits in practice during these drills would make me cringe.. Yes, we're talking about practice!  Effective in preventing sacks, yes? Safe, definitely not...

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The Film Never Lies...

Coach Vanorski provided a few examples of what a dirty hit was to him.  The first video is of Chuck Cecil making two vicious hits.  The first hit I would consider legal because the ball carrier is not defenseless, but the second hit on the very next play is undoubtedly a hit on a defenseless receiver.  Cecil was known as one of the hardest hitting players of his time and ironically or not so ironically was forced to retire due to concussions.  Thus, proving my point that leading with your head puts the hit initiator at risk as much if not more than the player receiving the blow.  

I guess it was the Packers who played dirty back in the day because in the second video an exaggerated late hit by Charles Martin sidelines Bears' quarterback Jim McMahon.  These type of hits are easy to call dirty and malice can be safely assumed.  Hits like Leon Hall's on Jordy Nelson... not so easy to assume.

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Where Is The Line Drawn...?

I understand that without hitting, football wouldn't be football.  Nor is that is my goal by pointing out the Hall-Nelson hit.  There is a fine line for referees to distinguish between what is a penalty and what is just an inherent risk in playing the game.  To me, the rules seem pretty defined when looking at the rulebook excerpts written earlier in this article, but the enforcement of these rules seems to bit hit or miss (no pun intended).  Maybe we need a referee in the booth who can watch replays in slow motion to ensure proper rule enforcement? Does that cross the line? I don't know, but in my opinion, calls are being missed and inconsistently made.  What message is that sending current and future NFLers?

Looks Can Be Deceiving...

My long-time friend James Kratch is the NJ.com beat writer for the New York Giants and personally interacts with Leon Hall on a daily basis.  James pointed out they he did not believe Leon meant to hurt Jordy and I have to take his word for it.  It was wrong of me to say there was malice in Hall's actions.  My Dad always told me that when you assume it makes an ASS out of U and ME and you would think I would have learned by now.

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You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks...

Much like how I compared Malcolm Gladwell's dog fighting article to the Hall hit on Jordy, the fact that you can't teach an old dog new tricks came up in a comment by one of my high school co-captains.  Honestly you can't even blame the guy, but how do you teach a dog to not pee on the carpet? You catch them in the act, pick their little ass up and bring them outside and reward them for doing a good job when they do it the right way.  Throw a flag, push them back 15 yards and reward them by not taking any of their paycheck when they make hits with their shoulder...?

Inherent Risk...

What other industry has a 100% injury rate?  At this point, football players definitely know what they are getting themselves into.  However, I don't think that means that we can't look to other industries to make the game safer and to hold the NFL accountable to all the policies and procedures put in place to keep players safe.  I wonder what OSHA would have to say about the hit on Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley just hours after the hit that ended Jordy's night (see below).  This is a topic I researched for my capstone project while earning my masters degree at Georgetown.  If this topic interests you there is some more reading for you below, but I will end this discussion here for this article.  

Shit happens....

As mentioned earlier in the post, the viewers have the advantage of hindsight and the ability to review each play in slow motion.  Unfortunately, that isn't how the players on the field experience things and shit happens sometimes.  I still think the idea of referees in the booth to review calls may help the consistency of the penalty calling.  I wonder how much that would affect the pace of play...?

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Priorities...

When players get fined for how they wear their uniforms, the design of their cleats, the air pressure in the balls and walkie talkies, it makes you wonder why penalties that ensure safety are not enforced.  To me, that should be the # 1 priority.  

But I Thought Only Kings Wore Crowns...

A discussion of what exactly is the 'crown' of the helmet came up in the comments. I am still confused by this and from what I gather, this is more geared toward running backs lowering their head's.  The crown of the helmet is essentially the top of the helmet.  I feel like most players don't hit with this part of the helmet anyway, most likely because that would basically be a suicide mission.  However, this shouldn't matter in regard to calling an unecessary roughness penalty on the Hall hit because by definition it is any contact made by "using any part of a player’s helmet or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily."

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By The Books...

Why write rules if they don't get enforced?  The tail end of comments I received on the post were mostly in agreement that the hit on Jordy Nelson was 'dirty' or as I have newly defined it 'unnecessary & avoidable.'  One thing I would like to note is two of the comments made below by current high school football coach and one of my former teammates Kevin Karcich.  First Kevin points out that most refs in high school only call hits in instances of helmet to helmet contact, which is great for avoiding head injuries, but as mentioned multiple time throughout this post, the rule is written much broader than that. Just like an umpire is in control of the strike zone in baseball, referees hold the power to legislate acceptable vs. unacceptable hits.

I Immediately Regret This Decision...

As seen below, Kevin and the rest of the coaches at my high school make it a point to educate the players when they make dangerous hits by lowering their heads because they are putting their own personal health at risk by doing so.  Putting your head down to make a hit will be a decision that you immediately regret, just ask Ron Burgundy.  People do get it! This comment makes me feel like the culture of football is actually headed in the right direction.

I want to thank all of my friends who participated in this discussion because without your comments episode 61 would not have been possible. All in all, I hope to see hits like the Hall-Nelson hit draw penalties in the future.  I truly believe it is in the best interest of the players and the game.

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