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The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)553
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 The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)

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kirklandrules



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PostSubject: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 10:15 am



The Harrison Problem

By John Race
SteelersXtreme.com

Oh, what to do with James Harrison? Last season, the much maligned linebacker became the first NFL player to receive a suspension for, well, being too rough. The suspension was handed down as a result of a big hit on Cleveland’s quarterback, Colt McCoy, that had the young QB in a haze for several weeks. If the Harrison problem resulted from just this one play, the Steelers, the league and even Harrison would probably be much happier. However, the Steelers linebacker racked up $125,000 in fines in 2010 alone (a total later reduced by the "good graces" of the league) for several crushing blows. But one needs look no further than two games played between the Steelers and the Browns during the 2010 and 2011 seasons to shed light on the conundrum pro football finds itself in.

Before getting into an analysis of what happened on the field, we should take a moment to understand why the NFL is changing a game that grew in success and popularity over the past 90 years. It starts with the fact that modern football players are bigger, stronger and faster, by a large margin, than their predecessors. Jack Lambert was listed as 6’4”, 204 pounds coming out of Kent State in 1974 and most likely didn’t weigh much more than 225 pounds by the end of his career. James Harrison, also from Kent State, is listed as 6’, 242 pounds, although he probably tips the scales closer to 250 pounds. And their prey, the quarterbacks, likewise have gotten bigger, stronger and faster. Ben Roethlisberger is listed at 6’5”, 241 pounds and is more likely over 245 pounds. That would have been the size of an offensive lineman prior to the 1950s.

Modern science and better knowledge of nutrition have provided major gains in the strength and speed of these players. Harrison’s 2010 workouts consisted of squatting 600 pounds for 8 reps and benching 425 pounds for 5 reps. Jack Lambert didn’t have the pleasure of sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber as is often associated with today’s football players. The improvements in speed from yesteryear shouldn’t be measured by a player’s 40-yard time. The important speed is seen in a 10 to 15 yard burst, where today’s players go from 0 to impact measured in fractions of a second.

The increase in size, strength and speed make for more violent collisions on the field and have a tremendous impact on the human body, especially the brain. Getting hit by Jack Lambert in his prime would be like a big, strong guy running full speed and planting you in the ground … it hurts. When James Harrison hits you, it’s like a small truck running you over … the pain doesn’t set in for a few days because that’s how long it takes for the feeling to come back (just ask Colt McCoy). Doctors are discovering the effects on the brain from multiple hits to the head, specifically Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a brain condition associated with multiple hits to the head. This disorder leaves a person with severe memory loss and psychological disorders.

How sad was it when we heard the story of how one of the "sacred" Steelers, Mike Webster, declined mentally and ultimately died a lonely, broken man at the age of 50? Lonely, not because he didn’t have a loving family, but because that family couldn’t reach the depths of the abyss Webster’s mental state plummeted to. Broken, not because he didn’t make money playing football, but because he couldn’t recall where his money went. Ultimately, Webster’s condition deteriorated to the point where he couldn’t feed himself, and he lived in a run-down truck. After his death, Webster’s autopsy indicated signs of CTE (see article here: http://www.gq.com/sports/profiles/200909/nfl-players-brain-dementia-study-memory-concussions?currentPage=1)

Just as tragic is the case of another Steelers lineman, Justin Strzelczyk, who died a lonely, broken man at the age of 36. Family members and former teammates tried to help Strzelczyk as he seemed to spiral out of control, but he was well past the point of help. Near the end, it’s said he was spending large amounts of time in a church trying to avoid some evil presence he believed was after him. His condition declined to a point that resulted in a long, crazed chase going the wrong way on a highway. The chase and Strzelczyk’s life ended in a fiery, head-on collision with a tanker truck. Postmortem examination of his brain showed he, too, had CTE (see article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/15/sports/football/15brain.html?pagewanted=all).

I use the stories of these two men only because they played for the Black and Gold. However, there are several other former NFL players that died with (not necessarily from) CTE. The fact of the matter is, modern technology has yet to come up with the design of football equipment that prevents the brain from banging against the inside of a players skull during the jarring hits we see every Sunday. The affects of these repeated hits are seen in the severe decline in the health and well-being of former players and the damages to their brains evident to the doctors performing their autopsies.

I have to imagine that Roger Goodell and the rest of the league officials really are interested in player safety when they are looking out for the future health of today’s players. But I also know the biggest driver of behavior for most business-minded individuals is the almighty dollar. Goodell is a bright guy and has to understand the magnitude of the exposure to litigation that could be brought forth from families of the players that show the ill effects of CTE. Although the bigger hits attract more attention and fans love those bone-crushing shots, the league must wince as it sees not only a player laying flat on his back motionless, but also another potential lawsuit somewhere down the road. Bigger, stronger, faster players cause more violent hits, which certainly contributes to damaging the brains of the players.

With an eye on protecting the future well-being of the players and most definitely protecting the league's bottom line, the league instituted a series of rules that largely protect quarterbacks and wide receivers. These are the two positions that tend to be the most vulnerable between whistles. These rules are written around how a defender makes contact with a "defenseless player." Most of the flags, fines and suspensions are coming from rules that try to eliminate helmet-to-helmet hits.

Let’s look at two hits that occurred in the Steelers-Browns games of 2010 and 2011 to see where James Harrison got himself into trouble. In the 2010 game at Heinz Field, Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi ran a drag pattern across the field and was thrown the ball as he entered Harrison’s zone of responsibility. Harrison read the play very well and made a thunderous hit on Massaquoi just as the ball arrived (see video below). Watching the video, you can see Massaquoi try to duck to protect himself. This defensive action by Massaquoi actually put himself in great danger as Harrison was coming in around Massaquoi’s chest. Ducking helped provide the helmet-to-helmet hit. A flag was thrown, the Steelers were penalized, and Harrison was fined. The unwritten message sent by the league: Defenders are responsible for helmet-to-helmet contact regardless if it wasn’t the defender's intent to use his helmet to strike an offensive player's helmet.



The second hit occurred, again, at Heinz Field, but in 2011. On this particular play, Colt McCoy dropped back to pass. Not finding a receiver, McCoy tucked the ball and ran at a 45 degree angle toward his left. Just like the 2010 play, the 2011 play brought the offensive player into Harrison’s zone of responsibility. Looking very much like a player with every intention of running the ball for whatever gain possible, McCoy left the pocket and approached the line of scrimmage. As James Harrison began closing in, McCoy quickly pulled up and threw a short pass to a receiver in the shallow flat. Harrison took another step and drilled McCoy (see video below). Watching the clip in slow motion, you can see the initial contact from Harrison’s facemask with the collarbone region of McCoy’s shoulder pads and facemask almost simultaneously. A flag was thrown, the Steelers were penalized, and Harrison was suspended. This particular play resembled an ad-hoc option-pass in which almost all college and high school football fans have seen QBs take these hits on a weekly basis. Harrison tried to defend this hit by suggesting his understanding of the rules allowed him to hit a quarterback when the quarterback leaves the pocket and appears to be running the ball (much like a linebacker would do in an option scenario in college). However, NFL rule A.R. 12.47 paraphrased says that a defender cannot make helmet-to-helmet contact with a QB out of the pocket and who throws the ball (see rule here: http://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/image/rulebook/pdfs/26_2011_Official_CaseBook.pdf). Had McCoy kept the ball, it seems Harrison may have had a legal hit.



Every defender is taught in high school and college to drill a QB when they run from the pocket and approach the line of scrimmage (and helmet-to-helmet hits are not illegal at those levels). NFL players were taught this very thing until the 2011 season. James Harrison had a fraction of a second to resist what he had done, very successfully I might add, through his playing days until the 2011 season.

The problem boils down to getting the current players to follow along with the elimination of one of the greatest attractions to the game of football. For James Harrison, it’s been a costly lesson to learn. Ultimately, he will adjust his game to avoid hitting quarterbacks and receivers in the helmet. He has amazing talent and will continue making great defensive plays for the Steelers in the coming seasons.

For us fans, we will still be watching a very tough sport despite a reduction of the violent head-banging. Trust me, the NFL will not become a league of weaklings because of these rule changes. There will be plenty of hard hits, and the ice tubs will continue to be used after every NFL game.

We now know more about the long-term results of violent hits to the head, and with that knowledge comes a responsibility to do the right thing. As a Steelers fan, I did enjoy watching the hits on Massaquoi and McCoy. As a person, I’d hate to hear that these two players have incurred brain damage from violent collisions and slip down the same cruel path as our very own Webster and Strzelczyk.

© Steelers Xtreme 2012
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Wallace108



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 10:31 am

Excellent commentary, KR!! Not only is it a good read, but I think it's also going to create some great discussion. Like most everyone else, I've constantly blasted Goodell over the past couple of years. But there are two things I think everyone needs to consider:

1. Goodell isn't a dictator. He can't change anything about the game without the approval of the owners. So all the changes made to the game for player safety in the past few years are coming from the owners ... not just Goodell.

2. There's a damn good reason why the NFL is suddenly taking an interest in player safety and changing its rules. It's called CYA ... Cover Your Ass.

Quote :
Former Washington Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien has sued the NFL over “repeated traumatic injuries to his head” sustained during his 11-season career.

Mr. Rypien is the lead plaintiff in a mass-tort lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Taking part in the lawsuit are 126 former players, including 14 other ex-Redskins, as well as Tony Mandarich and Todd Marinovich.

The lawsuit alleges that the NFL was aware of the risks of repetitive traumatic brain injury but hid the information and misled players, resulting in permanent brain damage or neurological disorders.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/mar/27/rypien-lead-plaintiff-lawsuit-nfl-head-injuries/

So I think the NFL is just trying to protect its business. Nothing more, nothing less. But as KR pointed out, protecting the players a little more isn't a bad thing for them either.

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jjmjmay



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 11:12 am

I'm all for taking head injuries seriously but many of these fines and flags are simply rediculous. How is the defensive player suppossed to adjust once he is already committed to making the tackle and the offensive player ducks, or moves in any number of ways. The other thing that really makes me angry is why is one position, the QB, so much more important to protect than other position players? Not to mention why are some QB's more protected than others and I'm not talking about outside the pocket.

Its funny because all these rules that make it easier for offensive players to run free with no hinderance through the secondary actually increases these high velocity dangerous hits. The NFL wants offense and excitement which I get but when you are going to limit contact the defense can make while defending to gain offense you are also going to have a much higher percentage of guys running free at full speed both on offense and defense. But again when its a hard hit you will punish the defense.

I like what they have done with guys having to be cleared to come back into the game after they get rocked. In the past players would continue to play while they may have suffered a serious head injury. I think that making sure they are good to go even if they miss a week is going to help long term as far as having head injuries that deteriorate the players brains as they get older.
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stlrtruck



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 11:13 am

I don't mind the rule changes per se, but what I mind is how carelessly they are carried out throughout individual games.

Case in point:
In the Steelers @ Broncos playoff game, I saw a Steelers DB have incidental contact with a broncos WR and there was no flag. In that same game, I saw a broncos DB purposefully make contact with a Steelers WR and no flag was thrown.

In other games around the league you will see QBs get leveled. Hits that other players have been fined for as well as suspended for, are not even flagged. Why? If you're telling me, as a fan, that certain things are changing then please level the playing field and don't allow certain players to perceivably get favorable calls at favorable points in the game, while others are left to fend for themselves.

IMO, that is the problem with all the rule changes, the officials don't know how to interpret them, let alone apply them.

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kirklandrules



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 12:39 pm

Hot off the P-G press ... Mark Rypien suing the NFL for "repeated traumatic injuries to his head.".

See last paragraph at the bottom of the article ...

http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/steelers/nfl-notebook-former-qb-leaf-arrested-in-montana-629345/
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vasteeler



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 1:06 pm

great write up captain kirk

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kirklandrules



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 1:40 pm

I agree that the helmet-to-helmet penalties would be a lot easier to swallow if they were applied more consistently. However, I should point out that with Ben having his off-the-field issues and James making pretty tough comments about the Commish in last year's off-season, it's hard to ask the league to give them the benefit of the doubt on specific calls. Here's another article from P-G that touches on the consistency of the helmet-to-helmet calls. This quote was taken from page 2 of the below link:

"Expect in 2012 to see the NFL crack down on the following rules already on the books because the competition committee suggested they be "points of emphasis."

• Blows to the head."



http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/steelers/on-the-steelers-the-games-never-stop-629390/?p=1
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stlrtruck



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 1:49 pm

I don't want to see a 'crack down' on the rules. It sounds like a DUI road stop check point.

What I want, as a fan, is the equal employment of all rules to be applied across the board. Not just helmet to helmet, but holding, P.I., roughing the passer, etc. If officials truly understood the rules, and applied them equally across the board you would see less injuries because players and coaches would understand that the rules are now being enforced - ALL OF THEM.

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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 3:49 pm

stlrtruck wrote:
I don't want to see a 'crack down' on the rules. It sounds like a DUI road stop check point.

What I want, as a fan, is the equal employment of all rules to be applied across the board. Not just helmet to helmet, but holding, P.I., roughing the passer, etc. If officials truly understood the rules, and applied them equally across the board you would see less injuries because players and coaches would understand that the rules are now being enforced - ALL OF THEM.

I agree. It has to be fair for ALL. I'll use Ben as an example because I'm a homer. He takes a lot of shots. Hell he got his nose broke and "Haluki Nada" paid a fine but I'm pretty sure no flag was thrown. You take McCoy (and Harrison) out of that play and insert Ben and Ray Lewis. We all know that Lewis would not serve a suspension. He probably wouldn't get flagged or pay a fine. Then there are the very same hits Harrison is being fined for (and all the other "Rough" players) being sold on DVD.Pure bullshit hypocrisy.
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Buddha Bus



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 5:31 pm

Damn fine read, KR! Thanks for the great article and food for thought.

I too have been hard on the Commissioner and his rule changes, but I suppose there needs to be more steps taken to try to prevent the types of catastrophic injuries that Webster and Strzelczyk endured. No human being should have to live their days out like that if it can be helped. I'd also just like to see the penalties and fines doled out reasonably and fairly though. I don't think there was any doubt that there was a concerted effort by the league to single out Harrison for his hits. I suppose James didn't help himself out with his rebellious tones when he faced the fines and suspension, but if they are truly concerned about player safety, it shouldn't matter who the offender is. I think a lot of these player safety rules are more about the money and lawsuits than true compassion for the players, sadly, which makes it not sit well with me further.

I hope they can continue to find new ways to prevent these types of injuries in the future whether it be through new rules or better safety equipment.


Also, kudos to VA for the new nickname for KR! I think "Captain Kirk" is a keeper!

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kirklandrules



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Mon Apr 02, 2012 8:30 pm

Buddha Bus wrote:
Also, kudos to VA for the new nickname for KR! I think "Captain Kirk" is a keeper!


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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Tue Apr 03, 2012 4:21 am

kirklandrules wrote:
Buddha Bus wrote:
Also, kudos to VA for the new nickname for KR! I think "Captain Kirk" is a keeper!




I really hope the new owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars pisses you off someday.




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kirklandrules



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Tue Apr 03, 2012 8:00 pm

Buddha Bus wrote:



Nice, I like the "Evil-gasm".
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Wallace108



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Wed Apr 04, 2012 1:08 am

Captain Kirk. It was long overdue for someone to pick up a nickname.

Everyone has brought up good points in this thread. I agree with those who talk about fairness. Regardless of what the rules are, the officiating needs to be fair and consistent. And we're not seeing that right now. And the same goes for the fines. That's the problem I have with Goodell.

jjmjmay wrote:
The other thing that really makes me angry is why is one position, the QB, so much more important to protect than other position players? Not to mention why are some QB's more protected than others and I'm not talking about outside the pocket.
In my opinion, the obvious answer is because they're trying to protect their investments. You can replace a guard or a tackle. It's not so easy to replace a franchise quarterback. So yeah, this makes it seem like the NFL cares more about money than player safety.

jjmjmay wrote:
I like what they have done with guys having to be cleared to come back into the game after they get rocked. In the past players would continue to play while they may have suffered a serious head injury. I think that making sure they are good to go even if they miss a week is going to help long term as far as having head injuries that deteriorate the players brains as they get older.
That's a very interesting point. We have documentation on the long-term effects of concussions. But how much of the long-term damage is a result of taking subsequent hits before the players had recovered?

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kirklandrules



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PostSubject: Re: The Harrison Problem (Xtreme Commentary)   Wed Apr 04, 2012 10:42 am

Wallace108 wrote:
Captain Kirk. It was long overdue for someone to pick up a nickname.

Everyone has brought up good points in this thread. I agree with those who talk about fairness. Regardless of what the rules are, the officiating needs to be fair and consistent. And we're not seeing that right now. And the same goes for the fines. That's the problem I have with Goodell.

jjmjmay wrote:
The other thing that really makes me angry is why is one position, the QB, so much more important to protect than other position players? Not to mention why are some QB's more protected than others and I'm not talking about outside the pocket.
In my opinion, the obvious answer is because they're trying to protect their investments. You can replace a guard or a tackle. It's not so easy to replace a franchise quarterback. So yeah, this makes it seem like the NFL cares more about money than player safety.

jjmjmay wrote:
I like what they have done with guys having to be cleared to come back into the game after they get rocked. In the past players would continue to play while they may have suffered a serious head injury. I think that making sure they are good to go even if they miss a week is going to help long term as far as having head injuries that deteriorate the players brains as they get older.
That's a very interesting point. We have documentation on the long-term effects of concussions. But how much of the long-term damage is a result of taking subsequent hits before the players had recovered?

All good points Wallace. One thing to consider for linemen is that for the past few years the league has seen an increase in passing plays. This also has increased the number of draws and other run plays from a typical pass alignment. The importance here is that the offensive linemen usually stay in a 2-point stance on these plays and typically do not fire out head first.

However, there should be rules that prevent both offensive and defensive players from intentionally using their helmets to strike another player in the helmet, regardless of position. Or possibly the rule should focus around preventing players from launching head first into another players head.
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