Anyone with two eyes and instant replay can tell that the National Football League still isn’t doing enough to police the helmet-to-helmet hits that can lead to brain injuries.
In a nationally televised game on September 15, defensive safety Brandon Meriweather of the Washington Redskins, a former New England Patriot, launched into Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy, smashing into his head and giving him a game-ending concussion. Later, Meriweather, who has been fined three times since 2010 for helmet-to-helmet hits, knocked himself out of the game with a helmet hit on Packers running back James Starks. In another game, star Houston receiver Andre Johnson was slammed out of action as Tennessee Titan Bernard Pollard launched his shoulder into Johnson’s head. None of those plays resulted in on-field penalties.
Even more feeble were the fines. Meriweather was docked $42,000, but he makes $75,000 a game. Tampa Bay’s Dashon Goldson was originally suspended for one game for a helmet-to-helmet hit Sunday on a New Orleans Saints player because it was his fifth penalty for “unnecessary roughness” since 2011. But the league reduced the penalty on appeal to a fine of $100,000. That is a huge amount for an ordinary person, but Goldson reportedly makes $265,000 a game. Pollard, who is remembered in New England for the knee tackle that ended Tom Brady’s season in 2008, was eventually fined $42,000, but he reportedly makes at least three times that amount per game. To actually change the culture of the game, fines should start at a whole game’s salary.
During the games themselves, the league should have a booth official solely to watch replays for helmet hits. Flagrant shots missed by referees but caught on replay can be rectified with personal fouls applied upon confirmation. Any player who concusses a player out of a game with an illegal hit should be immediately ejected. Such moves might begin to get players to tackle opponents differently, and make it clear the NFL is serious about tackling this issue head on.