Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/26/12
With all the talk of helmet-to-helmet hits, concussions and long-term disability, regular football on-the-field violence just seems so mundane, doesn’t it? It’s absolutely true that concussions have become the sexy injury in sports — so to speak — and certainly the sexy topic in terms of the safety of athletes. For years there had been stories about the challenges NFL players were facing in their post-playing days, and every so often someone like Paul Kariya would remind fans that head injuries are serious business. However, with Sidney Crosby‘s extended concussion absence and the death of former Wild and Rangers enforcer Derek Boogaard (and the massive New York Times piece that examined the circumstances of his death), concussions were suddenly too big an issue to ignore. Likewise, Steve Young‘s multiple concussions in the NFL didn’t seem so quaint anymore, and under pressure from the Players Association football has been working to prevent incidents such as two weeks ago, when marquee quarterbacks Michael Vick, Jay Cutler and Alex Smith all went down with concussions. The problem is, while the NFL has spent so much time and effort trying to (at least publicly) combat concussions and head injuries, it feels like it’s letting other violence get swept under the rug. How else to explain the lack of a suspensionfor the Lions’ Ndamukong Suh‘s apparent kick to the groin of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. Worse yet was Saints defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley‘s undeniably intentional kick to the head of the 49ers’ Alex Boone — and he, too, it appears, will get off without a suspension. On the play, there’s no question that Boone added to the frustration or was equally culpable of creating a hostile situation after a blocked 49ers field goal attempt. Likewise, convention NFL wisdom says it’s the one who retaliates who will always be punished, but there was a huge difference between the actions of Boone and Bunkley. Bunkley literally kicked a man while he was down and defenseless — in the head, no less. Of course, if Bunkley had committed an accidental helmet-to-helmet tackle, the conversation regarding a possible suspension would still be very serious, not already ruled unworthy of a suspension. And that’s a huge problem. In short, intent should count for something. By all reports, Ed Reed, for instance, is not a dirty player, but when you tackle like he does it’s hard to adjust last-second and avoid certain helmet-to-helmet contact. Yet he’s the one who was seriously looking down a one-game suspension for his actions. Bunkley, meanwhile, is allowed to engage in actions which are undeniably malicious, and clearly intended to cause injury to his opponent — and, moreover, how is kicking a head any less likely to cause a concussion than helmet-to-helmet? And that’s the problem with the NFL’s system of punishment right now. By all outward appearances, unless your specific indiscretion deals directly with helmet-to-helmet tackling and concussions, then it doesn’t seem to be a concern of the NFL — as evidenced by Suh and Bunkley. These are the kind of decisions which absolutely wreak of a league worried about it’s public relations with mothers who have kids in pee wee football, while trying to cater to a different crowd and show that the NFL still allows for physicality and after-the-whistle, old-fashioned shenanigans. The NFL should start getting serious about all dangerous plays if it wants to continue to be taken seriously.
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