Updated: 10/20/10 4:43 p.m.
(WSCR/CBS) – Bears tight end Dez Clark wrote in his blog today: “I’m all for protecting us, the players, but c’mon man, this is football. We are getting to a point where a defender will be scared to make an impact tackle on a player in fear that he may be suspended for games.” And it turns out that Clark isn’t the only NFL player wondering what will happen to the future of football. READ: Dez Clark’s Blog On 670 The Score
Players around the league are wondering what’s happening to their game.
One day after the league said it will begin suspending players for illegal hits, many players were asking if this still is pro football.
Several Bears hit back today saying safety is important but the NFL has gone too far.
“We’re going to be playing flag football in about five years,” Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said Wednesday.
“I appreciate what they are trying to do and protect us, but at the same time we know the risks. We signed up to play football,” said Bears wide receiver Rashied Davis.
Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis echoed those thoughts.
“My opinion is play the game like that game is supposed to be played, and whatever happens, happens,” said Lewis, among the most physical linebackers the game has known. “If you go into the game thinking about any of that stuff, I’m telling you, the game will be diluted very quickly.”
The players say it will be hard for them to adjust the way they tackle since this all they know. Some believe it could lead to even worse things.
“I think you might have more injuries now because you will have guys tackling while ducking their heads,” said Bears safety Chris Harris. “They won’t see what they are going to hit and taking a knee to the head. You could see more head injuries, spinal cord injuries, there are so many ways this can go.”
The NFL imposed huge fines on three players – Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson and New England’s Brandon Meriweather – on Tuesday for dangerous and flagrant hits last weekend and warned that, starting with this week’s games, violent conduct will be cause for suspension.
“You look at the James Harrision hit, all these hits, whatever they may be, the bottom line is those are hits that you go into your defensive room and you’re getting praised for,” Lewis added. “Because that’s the way the game of football is supposed to be played.”
Except, according to the rules, when players are launching themselves at defenseless opponents, often leading with their heads even when the direct contact is not made by the helmet. Shoulders and forearms to the head also are illegal, and the league is ratcheting up punishment for offenders.
By doing so, though, is the NFL stripping the game of the inherent violence that makes it America’s most popular sport, with soaring television ratings and strong attendance.
“There is still going to be great collisions … it’s still going to be a physical game,” said Eagles coach Andy Reid, who witnessed firsthand the brutal collision between Robinson and Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson on Sunday that left both players with concussions. “We just have to eliminate that helmet as a weapon; that son of a gun is pretty hard material right there. If we could just get that out of the picture there on some of the shots, I think that’s all the league is asking for.”
What really bothers the players is that the NFL has profited off their hits over the years, selling pictures and DVDs of them. After the uproar, the NFL quickly took pictures of illegal hits off their website Wednesday.
“That’s baffling to me, to see the NFL website had that picture of an illegal hit. It is total hypocrisy,” said Harris.
Some players think the NFL is asking for something much more difficult: a complete change in playing style. Not surprisingly, defensive players are most critical.
“What they’re trying to say – ‘We’re protecting the integrity’ – no, you’re not,” Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said. “It’s ruining the integrity. It’s not even football anymore. We should just go out there and play two-hand touch Sunday if we can’t make contact.”
No one wants to see anybody get hurt but the reality is: fans love to see the bone-crunching big hits. It’s like taking the slam dunk out of basketball or the home run out of baseball.
We’ll see if the new rule stays in place. Reportedly, the Players Union is going to get involved.
STATS LLC, CBS 2′s Megan Mawicke and the Associated Press contributed to this report.