Yes, yes, we know that it’s Carl Johnson and Merton Hanks that handle the NFL’s “disciplinary” issues; we know our way around the 17th floor of 280 Park better than most. But we needed a headline, and so here we are. This is NFL kommisar Roger Goodell in the midst of his Cincinnati trip, enjoying Skyline Chili for lunch (If I had to guess, I’d say that they were at the Vine Street location near the stadium). Commence with the jokes about Cincinnati-style chili resembling liquid feces and the implications of Herr Goodell partaking in a “three-way.”
Anyway, I guess we should probably discuss the plight of Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie; after taking a brutal hit against Philadelphia that left him incapacitated on the field for more than 10 minutes, he was reportedly “alert” and “sitting upright.” The collaborators on the hit, Eagles safeties Quintin Mikell and Kurt Coleman, hit Collie from opposite sides. Coleman was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit and the pass was ruled incomplete.
Both calls were wrong.
Coleman appears to first make contact with Collie–who had already taken three steps with the ball in his possession–on the ball carrier’s left shoulder. In fact, the helmet-to-helmet contact is indistinguishable without watching the recoil of Coleman’s head, which is barely noticeable. But since the rule of unnecessary roughness (Rule 12-2-8) features the language “…including, but not limited to…,” the powers can be could flag anyone for just about any damn thing they please.
This is not to marginalize Austin Collie’s injuries. For the record, Collie slept last night, and his symptoms seems to be “waning,” which is wonderful news. This is to point out the lack of incentives created by the NFL’s interference with its own product.
Receivers are no longer accountable for their own safety, inasmuch as they can stay on the field. The fact that an NFL receiver can, at any time, be referred to as “defenseless” is still hilarious to me. Defenders now must do their jobs with a sort of gentile quality that flies in direct contradiction with their job descriptions.
Discipline is being distributed inconsistently. Nobody really knows which hits will generate fines until the league tells us, and that’s rather dubious. Perhaps fining players is the only recourse for the League in this current CBA, but it’s a weak one. Players that “headhunt,” and there are some out there, need to be ejected from games immediately in clear instances of malicious intent. That isn’t happening right now, partly because nobody knows what the hell an illegal hit really is.
Fans are pissed. Defensive players are bent out of shape. Is anyone happy with this sudden wave of discipline theatre that the NFL is now orchestrating? It’s worth noting that, for the first seven weeks of the season, the League did NOTHING to crack down on helmet-to-helmet contact, which makes this sudden appearance of grave concern seem, at best, insincere.
Goodell and Friends, if they are to be believed, have attempted to change the culture of hitting in their game. And they have failed. One is left to wonder whether the PR and liability pressures will be great enough to enact even more changes (certainly this will be negotiated in the upcoming collective bargaining talks). But for now it seems that the League is the only one doing the talking. And the flagging. And the fining. And making up the rules as they go along. This doesn’t help anyone. And it certainly didn’t help Austin Collie.