Players confused by NFL crackdown on hard hits

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Miami linebacker Channing Crowder said the only way of preventing helmet-to-helmet hits is to eliminate the helmet.

“If I get a chance to knock somebody out, I’m going to knock them out and take what they give me,” Crowder said. “They give me a helmet, I’m going to use it.”

The players are questioning how they are supposed to adhere to the heightened emphasis on avoiding dangerous hits when it goes against everything they’ve been taught since they first stepped on the field as kids.

“Guys have to be coached differently because we’ve been coached a certain way our whole lives,” said Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, a member of the executive committee of the players’ union, the NFLPA. “I think people out there would be shocked at the things players hear in their meetings with their coaches and the things they are supposed to do, the way they are taught to hit people.”

Many players also wanted stronger discipline for flagrant fouls to be part of their negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement, not something unilaterally imposed six weeks into the season.

“We want to protect the players, absolutely,” Fujita said. “But we need to have a longer conversation about it, and if you’re going to impose sweeping changes like that and talk about suspending players, that’s something that you have to address in the offseason.”

Anderson argues that the way the game is played, officiated and policed will only change for the better _ and safer.

“We are not going to fundamentally change the game. We’re focused on one thing, illegal hits to the head and neck area,” he said. “We hope to culturally change it so players understand those head hits under existing rules should be taken out of the game. For players who can’t make the adjustment on their own, they will get a lot of help from this office to make sure they don’t play that way.”

Officials will be instructed to have an even higher level of attention toward flagrant hits, which Anderson categorized as limited “but very high profile and damaging.”

The NFL’s crackdown was welcomed in the medical community.

Dr. William Bingaman, vice chairman of the Neurological Institute at the Cleveland Clinic and one of the independent doctors who examines concussed players to determine when they can return to action, sees it as a positive step.

But it’s hardly a cure-all for preventing head injuries _ or any other injuries _ in the NFL, where the players are bigger and faster, and the enhanced equipment can make them foolishly gallant.

“We will never eliminate the dangers of a concussion occurring,” Bingaman said, taking note that both Robinson and Jackson suffered concussions in their collision. “It’s huge that we have the proper equipment and the proper training and proper tackling techniques.

“Anything that reduces a blow to the head, naturally I am in favor of that, because there is less risk and less incidents of concussions or something more serious. If you reduce helmet-to-helmet contact, it will reduce the number of concussions, but nothing they do can eliminate it.”

Just as worrisome to some players, though, is limiting their ability to remain in the NFL.

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