Every week in the NFL and college football season it seems that some tackle or block thrown comes under intense scrutiny. We all know that over the last couple of years, regulations in both versions of the sport have tightened up considerably to protect players. Rules like the now infamous “leading with the helmet” violations were designed to protect players, especially quarterbacks, against “cheap shots” that could cause dangerous concussions. In the SEC Championship Game Saturday night, the issue came up again. An Alabama player, Quinton Dial, unleashed a menacing hit on Georgia’s quarterback Aaron Murray after he threw an interception. The hit was actually a block, as once the ball was intercepted, Murray became a defender which makes him fair game for blocking on the possible interception return. Therefore, the block was not illegal in and of itself, but it did appear that Dial led with his helmet, which is a violation of the rules. Officials either did not see the block or declined to charge Alabama with a penalty. In the aftermath, Monday morning quarterbacks from both the school’s fan bases as well as others around the country debated the hit and whether Dial should face disciplinary action. Of course, at this point in the season, that would only mean keeping the senior out of the BCS National Championship Game, the final game of his collegiate career.
As you can see from the video (yes they are laughing…wonder which team they were for?) below, it’s hard for any rational football aficionado to not admit that at the very least, a 15-yard penalty should have been issued for the leading with the helmet infraction. But it was not called, which means for all intents and purposes, the officials did not view it as a punishable offense under the NCAA rules. For the record, Murray was fine after the hit, although probably more than a little embarrassed. He even spoke to the press later and said that the hit in no way affected him for the second half of the game, which saw Georgia eventually losing to Alabama in the final seconds after a dramatic, well-orchestrated final drive that fell just a few measly yards short.
Between “BountyGate” in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints facing unprecedented actions regarding a program where players were rewarded monetarily for injuring players and the constant beating of the concussion drum, we just want to point out that nothing that is going on in football today is different than in years past. Yes, the athletes are getting bigger and better all the time, and yes, the rules to protect players are a good thing. But will we have to start playing flag football before everyone is satisfied. At the end of the day, football is a violent contact sport. Every player from PeeWee to the pro ranks knows when they go out on the field there is a very good chance that at some point in their career, they will be injured. Look at professional boxing. It is a well-known fact that the relentless punishment boxers take above the neck often results in brain damage. They put up with the risks to get the reward. For pro boxers, that is millions of dollars, win or lose. For amateur boxers, the rewards are much less, but still, there is a never-ending stream of people ready to participate and take their shot at the big-time.
So what are we saying? Simple enough. There are rules in place to protect the players. When those rules are violated, in-game sanctions are imposed that punish the team. In many cases, penalties can determine the outcome of a game. But any further action outside of the game should be restricted to incidents that are obvious flagrant violations. Players fighting miscellaneously should be punished the worst, and yet there were blows exchanged in this same game completely outside of the actual play, and no one is talking about suspending any of these guys.
To parents that might think this is harsh…there is a simple solution. If you are not willing to deal with the risks of injury that are associated with playing football on any level, simply don’t allow your child to play. Players above 18 years of age have to make that decision for themselves. They choose to play. No one forces anyone to play football, and many people probably stay in the stands because they are afraid of the toll it will take on their body. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. There is something wrong with people that choose to play then complaining about the nature of the game. Can’t we just play football? Can’t we just accept that s**t happens? People get hurt. Yes, we have rules to try to minimize that, but still, we can’t eliminate risks altogether without simply banning the sport. And no one wants to see that.
For the record, this article’s message is in no way directed at Aaron Murray. He made no complaint at all and accepted the unfortunate incident with dignity and class. We are talking about the sport as a whole and what it has come to of late. So, what do you think? It’s kind of like NASCAR racing, in a way. After popular and dominant racer Dale Earnhardt died in a crash at Daytona, the sport went on a mission to come up with ways to make the sport safer. The reality is that it is a very DANGEROUS sport. But no one gets in that car without knowing the risks. The fact that there are not more fatalities is really amazing. These guys strap themselves into 200 mile-per-hour missiles and circle the track for hours.
Rules are great and no doubt prevent injuries. They also stop people from going over the line. But there is a fine line between protecting the players and protecting the game. Sometimes, folks, it is what it is.