Fines and Injuries: Does the NFL Really Care?

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Known for the hard hits, concussions and injuries, the NFL is seen as the “tough man’s” sport. But a very quiet tough man raised an issue this week that has me wondering if the NFL is playing both sides by marketing their “hard hitting” sport to the public and fining its players for the same thing.

Troy Palamalu is the strong but quiet hard hitting safety of the Pittsburgh Steelers and he had some strong words for the direction of the league. The NFL “just loses so much of its essence when it becomes like a pansy game,” Polamalu said. “When you see guys like Dick Butkus, the Ronnie Lotts, the Jack Tatums, these guys really went after people,” lu said to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Now, they couldn’t survive in this type of game. They wouldn’t have enough money. They’d be paying fines all the time and they’d be suspended for a year after they do it two games in a row. It’s kind of ridiculous.”

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, did not take too kindly to Palamalu’s words. “I have a great deal of respect for him as a player, and obviously he has a right to his own views,” Goodell said Thursday during an interview on WBAL-AM. “But to say that this is about money and not the health of our players, I think is extremely disappointing when we spend as much time as we do with active players, reviewing our rules, reviewing techniques, and making sure we make the game is as safe as possible.”

Goodell has a point in wanting to protect its players. The NFL is a business and they do not want their star athletes to succumb to injury and lose them for the entire season. During games, if a player is hit illegally, a flag is usually thrown and the team is penalized for it, whether the play was intentional or not. The player is usually fined by the NFL for these penalties. Sometimes the ref’s do not see everything, in which case a fine is handed out by the league. The rules in place seem to be justified, except in the case of the helmet-to-helmet hit that occurred earlier this month to Anquan Bolden. Eric Smith, who has been trained all his life to hit a receiver properly to avoid a flag was fined $50,000 and suspended one game for a hit he swears was not intentional. From watching the replay of the hit, it seems that Smith recognizes the pass is going to Bolden and runs towards Bolden and jumps up for the ball as well as another teammate. Bolden was unfortunately in the perfect spot to get the brunt of the helmet-to-helmet hit. No one can be sure if it was intentional, but why the need to suspend him for one game and fine him $50,000 for something that was never flagged on the field?

With one hand the NFL would like you to believe that they are in the business of protecting its players but with the other hand, they want to profit off the big hits and save a quick buck where ever they can. Take the “Moment of Impact” DVD that is for sale, right this minute on the NFL Web site. This DVD was made in 2007 and includes over an hour of all the major hits in the NFL history, including chapter titles “The Best Defenses,” “Something Special,” and who can forget the chapter titled “Blood Brothers”. All for the low price of $19.99. “We have a physical game, there’s no question about that,” Goodell said. “We think that’s one of the attractions of the game … we just want to make it as safe as possible and balance the physical nature with rules that will hopefully prevent unnecessary hits and unnecessary injuries.” Unnecessary hits and injuries have been happening since football began. Sadly, most of the players who built the multi-billion dollar company that is the NFL, receive little to no help for everyday needs. Their bodies are broken from the years of “hard hits” from “The Best Defenses” but yet they have no adequate health coverage. Their pride keeps them from asking for a handout, but it has gotten so bad that some former players have gone without a roof over their head.

The NFL preaches about the safety of its “product” yet they do nothing but fine unintended hits and promote those same hard hits for sale later on. All while ignoring their retired players of the help they really need, when they can no longer be the “product”. If the NFL wants to profit off these hard hits, they need to start taking care of the guys who built the NFL off those hard hits and stop nit-picking at every play on the field. Because the NFL has chosen to do nothing and ignore its former players, a fund has been established “by former players for players”. The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund is a non-stock, non-profit corporation that provides direct financial assistance, social and medical services to retired players who are in dire need due to a variety of reasons including inadequate disability and/or pensions. As of today the NFL does nothing for former players suffering from lack of adequate disability, rehabilitation, health insurance, and retirement programs for some players, many who are older, has resulted in many retired football players finding themselves in dire need. As a result, some of the men who have given so much to the game can’t afford to buy medicine or to cover medical expenses to remedy football related injuries.

If Goodell is really concerned about his players, I suggest he start with the guys that built the multi-dollar industry instead of having winter meetings discussing new fines, rules and how to make a quick buck. In the words of Mike Ditka,“Do the right thing!”


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