It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
Last weekend saw NFL fields littered with broken bodies again. And nobody, not even the players themselves, seem to care. As long as its not them, or if they're being real charitable, a teammate, the concern for their own welfare is cursory.
The Eagles' DeSean Jackson left the game with a concussion after Dunta Robinson of the Falcons lowered his helmet and knocked them both out. He got a 15-yard penalty. Both walked off the field but "you kind of take a step back and think" after such a play, said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. "I wouldn't wish that upon anybody, let alone my teammate."
Everybody gathers around, holds hands, prays ... and, then they go out and do the same dumb thing again. It's gotten to the point that yesterday NFL vice-president of football operations Ray Anderson told Associated Press the league may soon start suspending players for dangerous helmet to helmet hits.
They better hurry up before Steelers' linebacker James Harrison or someone like-minded ends up killing or maiming someone.
"I don't want to see anyone injured, but I'm not opposed to hurting anyone," Harrison said, after instigating vicious collisions that knocked Cleveland's Josh Cribbs and a defenceless Mohamed Massaquoi out of Sunday's game.
"There's a difference," Harrison said. "When you're injured, you can't play. But when you're hurt, you can shake it off and come back. I try to hurt people."
It's that kind of attitude that this weekend left someone like Eric LeGrand, a junior tackle with Rutgers paralyzed from the neck down in a college game. The problem is that players have gone from tackling by wrapping people up with their arms to using their helmets and shoulders like heat-seeking missiles.
Something has to give and it's often the human body. The Steelers Pro bowl linebacker hit Cribbs' helmet hard with his own. Cribbs lay motionless on the field. Harrison then laid out Massaquoi with another shot to the head (though this was delivered with the shoulder) that left the Browns receiver crumpled to the turf. Reports indicated Massaquoi suffered memory loss and neck pain.
"Legal hits, not fineable hits," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Maybe. But that doesn't make it a good thing.
The NFL is becoming more a battle of survival than a test of skill. When teams have 25 to 30% of their rosters and many of the stars people want to see injured week to week there's a problem.
Football is an inherently violent game but even the NFL is beginning to understand there are limits. Anderson acknowledged the league might need to do more than fining players to prevent players from seeking to hurt each other.
"The fundamental old way of wrapping up and tackling seems to have faded away," Anderson said. "A lot of the increase is from hits to blow guys up. That has become a more popular way of doing it. We are concerned they are getting away from the fundamentals of tackling, and maybe it has been coached that way. We're going to have to look into talking to our coaches."
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told USA Today after seeing Jackson sidelined that helmet-to-helmet hits should be banned. "It's not something that should be in the game. It should be legislated out of the game," Lurie said.
All of this comes after the NFL sent out a memo this year expressing more concern than ever about concussions and the long-term effects they might have on players, including brain disease and dementia.
"That's football," Harrison said, shrugging.
Which begs the question: If the players don't even care about their own welfare, should we?