NFL's Illegal Hitting Policies Leave Too Much Guesswork

By Jeff Hartman
High Hits
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The hit that has ended Cincinnati Bengals punter Kevin Huber‘s season has gotten a lot of attention from local and national media throughout the week. When Huber was declared a “defenseless” player on the field, some came to Pittsburgh Steelers‘ special teams player Terence Garvin‘s defense while others declared the hit dirty and malicious.

If this play were to have taken place 20 years ago it would have found its way onto a highlight reel of big hits that the NFL themselves would have produced, but in the modern era of player safety hits like the one Garvin put on Huber will be dealt with financially via a hefty fine.

I am not here to say that the hit on Huber was a clean hit. He caught him under the chin and not only broke his jaw and also fractured a vertebrae in the process. My problem is the NFL deeming a kicker or punter defenseless unless they are attempting to make a tackle.

A defenseless football player? Don’t kickers and punters wear shoulder pads and helmets like everyone else? Don’t kickers and punters make tackles on a weekly basis when special teams coverage breaks down? Wouldn’t they be considered football players? Wasn’t Huber directly in the mix on that punt return and trying to make a tackle?

Granted, I realize that a punter does not necessarily have the training and skill set that an inside linebacker does, but at the same time if you are going to be employed by a football team to make plays within the game then there should be no such rule that deems a football player defenseless. If that were the case, then don’t put a helmet on them and have them leave the field of play after kicking the football.

This is just one of many issues that fans have with the NFL and their illegal hitting policies. Quarterbacks are treated like gold. Touch them below the knee or graze their helmet and it draws a flag. We get it — you are protecting franchise quarterbacks. Wide receivers going over the middle that cannot see what is coming cannot have a defender “de-cleat” them as they are defenseless in that position.

One can’t help but wonder if the NFL has opened Pandora’s box with these new rules. Would you deem an offensive tackle that has an inside linebacker blitzing off the edge with a six-yard head start as defenseless? What about a running back that in the process of being tackled gets hit directly in the head by a defender’s helmet. Clearly helmet to helmet contact, but a running back doesn’t get that flag. Why? Well, because they are a running back.

If the NFL wants to protect its players then by all mean protect all of the players, not just some. The hit that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell took on Thanksgiving night against the Baltimore Ravens not only knocked his helmet off but also gave the rookie a concussion. Was there a flag? No, because he is a running back.

The NFL is on the precipice of ridiculous at this point. If they keep going down this road there will be a strike zone on every player that can carry the football. Tackle them between the shoulder pads and above the knees or it is a flag. Doesn’t sound like too much fun does it? However, that is the direction the game is headed.

The NFL and its quest for player safety leaves fans, players and coaches frustrated, but to me there is a bottom line. These players have been playing their whole lives. They know the risk involved, and they signed up for the job. Some say you have to protect the players from themselves. I say, if they are making millions and know the risk involved, they are putting themselves at risk and the game should be played the way it was meant to be played, not with the term “defensless” tagged on any football player.

Jeff Hartman covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for and also contributes for the Penguins and Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @BnGBlitz and add him on Google+

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