IRVING, Texas - Whether you hate or love Roger Goodell and the power that he holds as commissioner of the NFL, you should understand that his focus and the corresponding rule changes that deal with hard hits and concussions is about much more than Goodell flexing his authority. The recent attention in this area by the league is a result of medical findings that affect not only NFL players, but college and high school athletes as well.
Concussions are prevalent in the NFL and the danger they present should not be taken lightly.
While Sean Lee did not receive a concussion because of the hit laid on him by Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, a block of that nature very easily could have caused head trauma to the recipient.
Before we go any further, we should take another look at what happened. This video is not of great quality, but shows the impact in slow motion.
The problem with the rules set up by Goodell and the NFL are the same problems that come up with most rules: There is always room for interpretation.
A recent rule change states that it is illegal to make a blindside block if it comes from the blocker's helmet, forearm or shoulder and lands to the head or neck area of the defender. Those who would defend Tate can claim that the hit did not come from Lee's blindside and that the only reason Lee did not see the block coming was because he was overly focused on tracking down the ball carrier. This was likely the officials' reasoning for not throwing a flag on the play.
But this brings up a certain vagueness in the term "blindside," which is not easily defined. A block in the back (which would truly be a player's blindside) is a separate penalty of its own. Of course, it is possible Lee could have seen Tate approaching, but then again, Tate was coming from a direction that was not head on with where Lee was running.
More importantly, the impact came too high for it to be considered a legal hit. One could watch the tape and argue that it was not a direct helmet-to-helmet hit, but the rule states that in this context, the hit cannot come to the "head or neck area of the defender."
Tate's initial contact certainly struck the neck area. The argument that it was slightly below the neck area is perhaps unfair reasoning. Logically speaking, an NFL helmet is too big to directly hit the neck of a player without hitting either the top of the defender's chest or the bottom of the defender's helmet as well. It seems the NFL added the term "… or neck area" into the phrasing of the rule with a hit like Tate's in mind. It seems almost impossible that someone could watch the footage and not claim that Lee was hit in the neck area.
This is further proven by watching the tape in slow motion and seeing that Lee's head is whipped backward before his body even seems to respond to the contact.
This rule change, which was brought into effect in 2009, had been unofficially titled "the Hines Ward rule" and is considered by many to be a direct response to a block that Ward made on Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers that broke his jaw and ended his season.
Here is footage of that hit:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPbraVljIrc
If we are to understand that this hit by Ward warranted a significant rule change in the NFL, then it is hard to believe that Tate's block on Lee would not warrant the enforcement of the rule. Even if we were to ignore our own interpretations of the rule, it would seem that both plays had a very similar risk of injury.
The goal is not to punish Tate for his aggressiveness. Of course it is refreshing to an extent to see a receiver bring a certain level of toughness and fight. And it can be hard not to get excited when you see a player on a team that you root for deliver a "big hit."
But these rules are being put into place to slowly change the culture of the NFL – not to harm it or make it less physical, but to ensure the safety of those playing the sport of football. If a certain type of hit has a high enough probability of injury then players must be punished for it so that it becomes considered an unacceptable hit. If Tate is praised for this block, it becomes more likely that we will see 10 more just like it. And it would be fair to guess that if you replicate that block 10 more times you will see a significant injury at least once.
There is an argument going around that "These guys are paid a lot and they know what they are getting themselves into. A lot of people will take hits like that for a lot less."
Both of those statements are true, but that is a very irresponsible and dangerous logic. I'm sure a lot of people would be willing to do even more dangerous things for less money than the average NFL player, but that doesn't mean that risking injury should be endorsed by fans, let alone the NFL.
If you believe Tate's block was a "good football play," that would mean if your son, brother or nephew plays high school football, then you would be perfectly fine with him taking the same hit that Lee did. And if it were totally within the confines of the rules, then it would be perfectly acceptable for him to take that hit once or twice every game. If the NFL is football at the highest level then college and high school football will always try to mimic its performance.
I don't have the medical expertise to say with any certainty, but if I had a high school son taking hits like that every Friday night then I might be a little worried about the effect it could have on his SAT scores.
If Goodell and the league are serious about concerns for concussions and head injuries then they will fine Tate and publicly state that such hits are not within the confines of the NFL rules.