Yesterday, the Redskins’ London Fletcher picked up a personal foul penalty for what referee Jeff Triplette said was “a forearm to the head” of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as Brady slid. Here is the hit in question:
While it does appear to be a hard hit (at first glance), there’s a problem with Triplette’s explanation of why Fletcher got flagged: at no point is Fletcher’s arm even close to Brady’s head. Fletcher led into Brady with his shoulder as Brady began to slide (both Fletcher and the announcers noted the Brady went into a slide pretty late in the play), hit Brady before the quarterback hit the ground…and he didn’t even hit him as hard as it initially appeared. Even by the NFL’s strict sliding standards, it should have been a legal hit. Even Brady said so.
That’s where the debate comes in. Many thought Brady simply got the call because he’s Tom Brady, or at the least because he’s a marquee quarterback. Or, you could take it a step further, as one commenter here did by saying of the play, “Playing football is slowly becoming a penalty in football” – that referees are just too whistle-happy in general for the game’s own good. Undoubtedly some players would agree with that sentiment. But should they? Are the rules going too far – not to mention less a way of potentially preventing injuries than an attempt to shift focus from the fact that football’s a dangerous game even absent any illegal hits?
Well – not totally, we don’t think. While a career taking all legal hits is still undeniably rough on the body, helmet-to-helmet hits are especially bad (and hits where the tackler leads with the helmet have the potential to be), and with practice, they can usually be avoided. Plus, the most perfect hit we’ve ever seen wasn’t helmet-to-helmet, leading with the helmet, or anything, so crushing blows are still possible.
Of course the NFL is going to do everything it can to outlaw the most dangerous types of hits rather than throw up its hands and say, “Well, football’s dangerous, so what can you do?” The NFL is way too popular to go anywhere, so trying to make the rules a little stricter on helmet-to-helmet hits is the best viable option, PR move or no. But it’s increasingly clear that no matter what, football is a dangerous game, and the consequences of that danger can be devastating.
As more stories like that keep emerging and players keep getting bigger, faster and stronger, though, we probably are headed down an inevitable road of increasingly strict rules on tackling, even amid complaints that the added rules water down the game. Because no matter how much the rules restrict the game as we think it should be played, we’ll stick around and watch: watered-down football is better than no football at all.