Football is a violent sport. Any time you are playing a sport where people wear protective padding and are told to use their bodies to wrestle opponents to the ground, violence is going to be a prominent part of the game. It’s an unfortunate reality that was on display during this week’s Monday Night Football matchup.
During the fourth quarter of a tight game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals — two teams that have never liked one another under any circumstance — we saw a pair of hits that highlighted just how violent football can be. First, there was this block by Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict that led to the latter leaving the game with a head injury.
Burfict has a history of doling out dirty hits and other plays that have left opponents worse for wear. This does not matter. What Smith-Schuster did was the kind of thing that is worse than a 15-yard penalty, as it is the kind of hit — lowering your head and shoulders on a player who cannot see you coming — that can really injure an opponent. This is, like, the definition of “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” except in this instance, it’s more “an illegal hit for an illegal hit will make football illegal within the next half-century.”
A little later in the drive, Antonio Brown caught a touchdown that led to the game-tying extra point. He went up and snagged the pass from Ben Roethlisberger, and as he was completing the catch, Bengals safety George Iloka lowered his helmet and went head-first into Brown’s helmet.
The league, to its credit, has tried to get hits like this out of the game, but it is obviously enough when stuff like this keeps happening. Iloka straight up lowered his head and shoulder and lead with the two of those, and on a human level, it was encouraging to see Brown stand up and be totally fine.
The violence that was on display here is not unique, it’s the kind of thing that seemingly happens on a weekly basis in the NFL. It also doesn’t include the injuries that occur from accidents like what happened to Ryan Shazier earlier in the game, or from legitimately senseless moments like what Rob Gronkowski did on Sunday afternoon to Bills defensive back Tre’Davious White.
Even if you love football — and I do! — admitting that the sport is inherently flawed because it allows hits like this to occur is the first step towards hopefully reforming the game. It might help if this mentality is scrubbed from the NFL forever.