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Double Talkin' Jive

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On the morning of Oct. 25, the NFL was feeling pretty good about itself after a Sunday of squeaky-clean play.

The proceeding week had been a wild one for the league. Three players made highlight reels with big, nasty-looking hits, causing the NFL to review film and ultimately rule the plays illegal. The league responded with $175,000 in fines and threats of suspension.

Immediately after the fines were doled out, of course, controversy raged – from media, fans, players and coaches.

Much of the noise involved charges that the NFL was changing the game by taking the physicality out of football. The tired 30-year-old Jack Lambert line about putting skirts on quarterbacks was dragged back out, players complained that they were being handcuffed by the league's “new” rules and fans screamed that the game they loved was being turned into flag football

Some of those comments are understandable, perhaps, but they represented a severe overreaction.

Hard hits are not being eliminated from the game; illegal hits are. Approximately 800 players logged significant minutes in NFL games on Oct. 17; over ninety-eight percent of them managed to navigate their way through 60 minutes of football without drawing a fine.

Where's the radical change to the game that everyone is screaming about? It's not there. The league is not changing the game – not by enforcing these rules, anyway.

There are roughly 2,000 snaps every weekend. That fateful weekend in October, just 0.994% of the plays contained fine-able offenses – less than one percent. Conversely, when the league instituted the "Mel Blount" rule in 1978—effectively negating bump-and-run pass coverage after five yards from the line of scrimmage—it changed the way every single forward pass was defended. That's a radical change.

Yet the NFL survived.

What the league should not feel so good about was what caused the rest of the outcry after the bevy of fines: accusations of hypocrisy, which were completely on target and stunningly ignored.

The most glaring example—it would have been downright laughable had it not been so blatantly ignorant—was NFL.com selling photos of Harrison's illegal hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. That's the example elementary school teachers will use for generations to come to teach children the definition of the word “hypocritical.”

Beyond that, the league is patting itself on the back for preaching player-safety while they are trying to force-feed an 18-game schedule down the players' collective throats.

“Sometimes, you need to have foresight,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. “In one sense, we’re saying we want to protect players from head injuries, but then you want us to go out there and do it two more times in the regular season.”

Clark is right, and so was Steelers coach Mike Tomlin when he addressed video-replay.

“We talk about player safety, yet we don’t blow whistles at the end of football plays,” Tomlin said, discussing how hesitation blowing the whistle can result in potential injuries.

Not to mention the fact that the league is facing a work-stoppage in just a few months. All of these issues will play into negotiations.

The NFL is doing the right thing when it comes to enforcing the rule against helmet-to-helmet hits. No, they cannot prevent those types of collisions in every instance, but they are taking the correct steps to limit them in the instances where they are preventable. That's a good thing.

But the league's hypocrisy, arrogance and greed remains on display as much as ever. They should hold off on the self-congratulatory behavior until they take a closer look in the mirror.

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