When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced last month that he was suspending Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison there were many people who felt he was targeting Harrison yet again. The all-pro was fined a total of $100,000 during the 2010 season for three separate hits.
This time, however, the hit came against Cleveland Browns Quarterback Colt McCoy. The NFL has been under fire from many fans for the way rules have been changed to protect QBs, and many believe the rules are changing how the game is played. After Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury during the first quarter of a week one 2008 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Goodell and his colleagues felt a change was needed. Ever since that point defensive players have been notified of the new rule changes.
This past off-season all 32 owners met with league personnel to discuss the changes. This resulted in changing the definition of a defenseless player. A defenseless player is now defined as a player who is “not clearly a runner yet.” This new definition applies to wide receivers, kickers and punters during returns, and quarterbacks after change of possession. The league also expanded rules against launching.
Harrison was fined $75,000 for launching himself at Browns WR Mohamed Massaquoi during a 2010 game. The NFL is trying to make the game safer for its players by tweaking rules to reduce the amount of big hits. Some may argue that it takes away from the excitement of the game, but they are not the ones who are out there running a slant over the middle while a Safety is trying to take their head off.
Goodell was justified in his decision to suspend Harrison one game for his hit on McCoy. Had it been another player, say fellow Steelers Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, Goodell probably would not have suspended him. But since Harrison has been subject to fines in the past and is a repeat offender, Goodell had no choice but to suspend the linebacker. Goodell deserves some credit for sticking to his guns and showing every player that illegal hits will not be tolerated and no player is above the law, not even an all-pro linebacker. We will see this Sunday if Harrison has learned from his mistakes or if he will continue to test the Commissioner’s limits.