Last night, as I watched Willis McGahee get carted off the field a thought popped into my head which has surfaced more than a few times this season. In the NFL the Big Hit is heralded. Earth quaking tackles make the fans cheer, it pumps up the defense and garners segments on sports highlight shows. A couple years ago video games saw the trend and created games like Blitz and EA Sports football games incorporated a "hit stick". However, unlike those like digital graphics in semi-real, real life engenders real-world repercussions.
I got chills when I saw Anquan Boldin spasm in the Meadowlands, held my breath for McGahee and cringe every time Brian Dawkins launches himself for a tackle. The fact of the matter is these traumatic injuries are or could more often than not be avoided. If we the viewers could appreciate the competition more than the spectacle, it seems we could save players spinal chords, seasons, and careers.
I watch NFL films, not only because I love hearing Harry Kalas's voice, but because I love to see how it was done. I can't speak to numbers or stats but I can speak to evidence, and evidence shows the days of the form tackle are long gone. The days of players getting low, wrapping the legs and bringing a man down are gone. Instead we have defensive players flying through the air, rules against leading with the helmet, and tackles that make my spin tingle. These death defying feats make us 'ooo and ahhh', they garner flashes that will "posterize" the image, and a spot in our top 10 highlights.
So what to do? The rules try to protect, but what is the sense in a rule when the glory is in going against it. The NFL can't do much more to protect its players on the field, training staffs can only do what knowledge and technology afford, and we as fans, well like I said we love the spectacle.
But what about the players themselves? Is there no accountability to protect the livelihood of their brethren? The great thing about NFL players is that the vast majority have no interest in injuring or doing harm when they lay the hammer, but it is a bit of a manifest grey area, when your job is to tackle and that job is at risk if the tackle is missed. It is a quandry, a decision made in a split second to "Jack him up" or simply wrap and drag. When the big hits make posters, national TV, and advertisements it is difficult not be tempted by the lure of notoriety, which is what these hits should be characterized as. The notorious hit against Frank Gifford. The notorious shot by LT which ended Joe Theisman's career. Only looking back are they seen as goonish, but in that split second before the tackle there is that moment where it can be either highlight or horrific. It is only when it becomes horrific that we start re-evaluating.
We could try and change humor nature, which is to stare and gawk at the accident hoping that everyone is alright, while at the same time being intrigued at the broken glass and blood. We can blame the media who put premiums on spectacular collisions that can be slowed down and viewed from various angles. But we can't change human nature and we can't slow the money hungry machine that is the media. No, when watch Ryan Clark goes to line up McGahee, you realize there is only one person who can change that outcome, and it is Ryan Clark. Not to blame Clark for a problem that runs throughout football. Rather it is up to Ryan Clark to become the antagonist and buck social convention. Be the person to take onus of his actions. It might mean fewer bonus bucks here, or less post-game interviews there, but it could also mean fewer life changing tackles everywhere.