Tuesday, December 13, 2011

James Harrison A Thug Or Just Playing The Game The Way It Should Be Played?

What is the difference between a defensive player who makes a big/solid hit and a player that is dirty?  That is the question I've been thinking about tonight after news that James Harrison has received a one game suspension (and, essentially, a roughly $75,000 fine for the game check he will miss) for the helmet-to-helmet hit that he laid on Colt McCoy last week.

A few years ago this subject is probably a lot more hotly debated than it is now.  I've had several arguments with friends and random strangers in sports bars about this very topic in the past.  The argument is usually player safety/dirty play versus "this is how the game is played."

James Harrison has crossed that line with the NFL five times now in the last few years, and each time he's been fined.  Today, he received a one-game suspension.

Is that too much? Not enough?  Colt McCoy, already a member of the good ol' boys network in the NFL, will not publicly complain about the hit (shoot, he doesn't even remember it).  He'd probably say it was good ole-fashioned football.
That is, until that concussion he suffered keeps him out of Sunday's game.  Maybe he misses the rest of the season (see Kris Dielman).  Maybe he misses the better part of a year (see Sidney Crosby).  Odds are, with the way he was treated immediately after his hit and the game last Thursday, he could easily be rushed back into playing too soon.

The NFL has been extraordinarily lucky in that a marquee player hasn't gone down for extended time due to a concussion.  It's bound to happen sometime soon.  Michael Vick has suffered one diagnosed concussion (and in my opinion, more than that this season).  When will that next hit put him out for extended time?

I wonder how many concussions James Harrison has suffered.  I wonder if his brain could already be showing signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease believed to be linked to repetitive head trauma? What will Harrison's life be like in 10-20 years?

Players continue to get bigger, stronger, faster, and are hitting harder than ever.   However, they're piss-poor tacklers and constantly putting themselves at risk by the way that they hit other players.  Turn on a college or pro game nowadays and you'll see powerful athletes racing across the field to deliver a huge hit.  They're not trying to tackle someone. They're trying to deliver the biggest sound/impact that they can for the "wow" factor.  That's not football.  That's demolition derby.

So ultimately, I see a guy like Harrison as a thug.  A thug in denial.  I truly hope he's okay after he retires.  Because, honestly, with the way he plays the one who is at the biggest risk of future brain disease is him.

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