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FENNO: In NFL’s hit parade, a 2-game suspension doesn’t amount to much

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Two games isn't enough.

Not for helmet-hunting Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather.

Not if you believe the League of Denial is gone.

Not when the league that built a multibillion-dollar business on violent collisions proclaims that safety is — and has always been — the top priority.

Not with the large NFL-mandated posters on the wall in the Redskins locker room at FedEx Field with pictures of correct tackling technique — the same form-tackling that's trotted out every decade or two under a new name as a panacea for the game's ills.

Not if you swallow the line that use of the head can be legislated out of football, never mind the uncomfortable realities of anatomy and physics that make detaching the head from such activities, well, problematic.

If the public relations pushes and blustering speeches and slick commercials and stern warnings in those posters are anything more than posturing to maintain the illusion that behavior of wayward players, not football, is the problem, then Meriweather should be suspended for the rest of the season. Not the pin-prick of two games, half of the four games Redskins defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, for example, received for ingesting a tainted over-the-counter substance he purchased at a nutrition store. The decision shouldn't be difficult.

Meriweather, after all, isn't just a repeat offender. The 29-year-old has made a career of helmet-to-helmet shots, hidden behind the hyper-macho canard that his job as a safety is to instill fear. So, he's left his feet, popped defenseless receivers, aimed his helmet at heads, delivered concussions and sustained them, never mind if the recklessness costs his team yards or costs him consciousness. That has resulted in fines as repeated as the hits but, until Monday, never a suspension.

Two more senseless head shots in the second half of Sunday's game against the Bears forced the league to act. That upped Meriweather's season total to five head shots, including one against Packers running back James Starks where Meriweather knocked himself out. The NFL ruled that hit legal.

Between jokes about collecting money to pay for the inevitable punishment, Meriweather professed confusion following the Bears game as to how he's supposed to tackle. The statement came within eyesight of the heads-up posters. No one noticed the irony.

Meriweather isn't a sympathetic character, no matter how much teammates insisted the NFL and referees are out to get him. While playing at Miami, for instance, he stomped on Florida International players during a brawl in 2006.

Yes, Meriweather is a headhunter. But he also reflects the fault lines — conflicts, really — that have emerged as football grapples with the brain-damage crisis that's not going away.

The two hits against the Bears, viewed through the prism of slow-motion replays, induce winces. They're ugly. They're reckless. They're exactly what the NFL wants to erase from the game — or look like it's erasing.

The truth, though, isn't as clear as a replay. Helmets collide on virtually every play. These aren't accidents or anomalies. They're just not as a dramatic as Meriweather trying to decapitate Brandon Marshall in the end zone while the ball falls harmlessly a few inches from the turf. Check out the men line on the line of scrimmage. Play after play.

If the head can really be removed from the game through proper tackling technique — forget the shifting angles, speed and sizes that make these split-second endeavors more difficult than simply not using your head — then why are they wearing helmets?

Going without helmets, of course, is laughable. Because heads collide with other heads, knees, elbows, shoulders, turf. All the time. That's football.

The uproar over Meriweather obscures a more fundamental question. Can football be made safe? Is this simply a behavior problem — something that can be addressed through the right combination of rules, discipline and improved technique — or is the real issue the game? The question isn't anti-football, but one of honesty about the bargain those on the field and in the stands assume every Sunday rather than pretending that one day the game will cease to deliver brain trauma.

Football is violent. That's one of the reasons we adore the sport. No matter the public relations efforts, significant risk will always accompany a game where a foundational element is men crashing into each other at frightening speeds.

Are the long-term consequences of Meriweather's lick on, say, receiver Alshon Jeffery that elicited national scorn any worse than the big hit safety Jose Gumbs put on returner Eric Weems? The blow was replayed at FedEx Field to "oohs" and cheers. On the NFL's website, the hit was noted as an example of a "nicely formed tackle."

So, Meriweather gets a two-game suspension that, if history is any indication, will be reduced to a one-game wrist-slap on appeal. The NFL will look tough. The safety will return. The posters stay up. Nothing really changes. And the hits go on.

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