Jim Harris: Unless Goodell Wants Touch Football Rules, Game Will Always Be Violent

by Jim Harris  on Wednesday, May. 2, 2012 3:43 pm  

Tyler Wilson took his hits against Alabama last year. (Photo by Will Flowers)

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell received more ammunition in sadly a tragic way Wednesday in his aim to make professional football a safer sport. Coincidentally, the news that the former great NFL linebacker Junior Seau may have committed suicide at his home in California, ending his life at age 43, came on the same day that New Orleans Saints star linebacker Jonathan Vilma was handed a season-long suspension by the NFL for his participation in the Saints' bounties-for-hits program of recent seasons.

It's important before we go any further to note the distinction of Goodell's desire for a "safer" sport, rather than a "safe" one. Football will never be safe. Heck, soccer has its share of injuries, and basketball too. There are not "safe" sports.

It's equally important to note that we may never know fully what happened inside Seau's brain to cause him to end his own life, if the reports Wednesday are accurate.

However, in recent years, research has linked concussions suffered on the football field to a rise in mental illness, dementia and other health problems among former NFL players. The NFL is fearing an onslaught of lawsuits from many former players who, in their later years, are suffering the effects of on-field head injuries.

Goodell, in attempting to show the NFL's concern with career-threatening injuries, has worked to eliminate some of the vicious hits on the NFL playing fields: limiting or outlawing hits to defenseless receivers, outlawing helmet-to-helmet hits and leveling huge fines for offenders and curtailing the punishment dealt on quarterbacks by opposing defenses.

The Saints have already seen head coach Sean Payton suspended for the 2012 season, while GM Mickey Loomis was handed a suspension for half the season. Greg Williams, who had left the Saints for the defensive coordinator's job in St. Louis, was blamed for instituting the bounty program for his Saints' defense, with hits geared to sideline the likes of Brett Favre and others, and he has been suspended indefinitely by the league.

On Wednesday, Vilma became the most penalized player of four current or former Saints said to be involved. Vilma reportedly put up his own money, in some instances, for bounties if a Saint took out an opponent.

What we don't know is the extent of life-altering penalties that other NFL players over the years have suffered from violent hits that are inherent in the game.

Where the Saints went wrong in all this was knowing they were being investigated by the NFL and trying to cover it up and lying about their actions (where have we heard this before?).

The bounties were being offered, the league investigation revealed, for any hits — legal or not — that knocked stars like Favre or 49ers running back Frank Gore out of games. Williams is on tape in a pregame speech urging his defense to frequently pound Gore's head.

The players who participated were feeding a desire for vicious contact that for some probably dates to pee wee football.

Perhaps other bounty programs have existed through the years in the NFL. Considering what we know now about boosters and illegal payments to players through the years with NCAA teams, perhaps a college program has instituted a pay-for-big-hits scheme; some day someone may spill the beans and we can all feign shock, SHOCK! that such a scenario could exist in a brutal game.



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