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Thoughts Of A Conflicted Fan

I agree with James Harrison.

I also believe that the level of violence in the NFL has become unconscionable

There is a saying in the political community that applies in this situation as well; ‘If you like good sausage or public policy you don't want to look too closely at how either is made.' In the wake of momma rollett's fine piece on helmet to helmet hits and the passionate and well thought out discussion that has occurred as a result. I personally feel compelled to revisit the sausage factory that we call the National Football League and weigh in on the place of violence as it relates to the game.

I have come to believe that one of the reasons that Steelers Nation is unique in its level of passion and loyalty is that the connection between residents of western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio with the game of football. These ties are so strong in part because the game's roots were firmly planted in the soil and culture of these two regions. The history of professional football goes all the way back to the mid 19th Century in western Pa., while the NFL was founded in the early years of the 20th Century in Ohio. The game has always been violent. But for people whose jobs involved breathing coal dust and trying to avoid being buried under tons of dirt, rock and ore, or hoping to not be vaporized by an errant splash of molten metal, the dangers involved with football were comically mild in comparison. Yes, you could die playing the game, and people did. That's why the sport was almost outlawed over a hundred years ago. But in those days there were a lot of ways you could expire.

I agree with Harrison when he talks about the difference between "hurting" someone and "injuring" someone. It is also clear to me that when Coach Tomlin says that the "more violent team wins" that this isn't some sort of metaphor. In an exercise where, as Russ Grimm said during his HOF speech, the object is to move a person from point ‘A' to point ‘B' against their will, a certain degree of violence is both inevitable and necessary.  A certain amount of violence is at the core of the game as it has evolved. It is about bending or destroying the opponents will to resist; either making it increasingly physical possible to resist or extinguishing the desire to resist. When I played high school ball I regularly set out to and succeeded in ‘hurting' people. On occasion, when someone attempted to ‘injure' one of us, my teammates and I usually successfully conspired to injure them. I have no doubt that if they desired that players on the professional level could severely injure and perhaps kill at will.                                        

But lets be clear here; this is not about violence. If it had been about violence the NFL would have done something when Jack Tatum turned Darryl Stingley into an invalid years ago. Or they would have done something when they learned of the conditions surrounding so many of their alumni; early death and disability, real ugly stuff. This, I repeat, is not about violence or player safety (except maybe for a handful of quarterbacks). This is about money.

The information that is being gathered about head injuries is overwhelming and pretty much impossible to dispute. The likelihood of another Stingley type incident or a death occurring on the field is not outside the realm of possibility.  One day either the family of a player who is paralyzed or killed, or the family of one of the players that had his brains scrambled when he played in the league is gonna sue. And the league will not be able to wring its hands and say ‘we didn't know'.  A related issue (related because it involves money as well) is that the league wants quarterback friendly, offensive pyrotechnics. Lots of points and running around are great for the casual fan whose dollars the NFL most greedily craves. People like James Harrison get in the way of this. And to expand the focus a bit, teams like the Steelers, a purist sort of team that is small market, specializes in relatively low scoring games, doesn't go in much for mascots or beefcake, who make a fetish of defense and unabashedly embraces the violence at the core of the game aren't exactly good for business either.  And they just decided to make an example of...?

Somebody please answer this question to reasonable satisfaction. If what Harrison did was so over the top terrible that he received a high five figure fine and threatened with suspension (being that he is an uncontrollable menace to society) than how come the officiating crew isn't somehow reprimanded for not calling a penalty (assault and battery, attempted murder, a hate crime?)?

What is so infuriating to me is that there are very real issues of player safety that need to be addressed. There are solutions available if the league actually cared about solving the problem. Instead they scapegoat a few players and a class of players (the defense) and prove that they're a bunch of tough guys by kicking Harrison in the ass. In the meantime fans are doing the owners PR by pooh-poohing and rationalizing the real dangers that players face even as the owners actively campaign to increase the players work load.

‘The players chose to do this work.' Or ‘they get paid a great salary in order to take these risks'.

Well, whatever you have to do to sleep at night I guess. But let me introduce at least one inconvenient fact. I remember having a Steeler as a substitute gym teacher. He wasn't doing it for chuckles. Before free agency athletes rarely made extravagant salaries, and would take work in the off season to help make ends meet. Playoff bonuses often exceeded an entire year's salary. Today the average player lasts less than four years in the league. Unlike baseball and basketball contracts aren't guaranteed. If he doesn't get a huge signing bonus and gets cut or has his career cut short by injury he can come away with something less than a fortune. Yes, they make much more than I do but only for a couple of years. And many of the guys like the Mike Websters, Terry Longs, Steve Coursons have paid a tremendous toll and aren't sitting on millions.   

Harrison gained a lot of respect from me today.