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Hard Hits Are A Part Of The Game

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Brandon Meriweather knocked out Eddie Lacy with a high hit. Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images.
Brandon Meriweather knocked out Eddie Lacy with a high hit. Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images.

Is there a "correct" way to hit in the NFL?

Plain and simple, the answer is no.

Usually, players have just a fraction of a second to decide where and when to tackle another player. That's not enough time to make a decision.

The NFL has routinely dished out suspensions and fines for illegal hits, and many of those suspended and fined players counteracted with an appeal; they just don't agree with the penalty. 

San Francisco's Patrick Willis recently said that players should "hit like rams."

In a Week 2 game against Green Bay, Washington's Brandon Meriweather knocked Eddie Lacy out of the game by launching into him, and then later put himself out of the game with a similar hit. 

Article 8 of the NFL's Player Conduct rules states that a player cannot illegally launch into a defenseless opponent. "It is an illegal launch if a player (1) leaves both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, and (2) uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/"hairline" parts) to initiate forcible contact against any part of his opponent's body," the rule says. However, this rule does not apply to contact against a runner, unless the runner is considered defenseless.

Wait, so, it's OK to launch or lead with the helmet against a runner? To be clear, what is a "defenseless" player?

A defenseless player, according to the NFL rules: 

A player in the act of or just after throwing a pass;

A receiver attempting to catch a pass; or who has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner. If the receiver/runner is capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact of an opponent, he is no longer a defenseless player;

A runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped;

A kickoff or punt returner attempting to field a kick in the air;

A player on the ground at the end of the play;

A kicker/punter during the kick or during the return;

A quarterback at any time after a change of possession; and 

A player who receives a "blindside" block when the blocker is moving toward his own end line and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side.

First of all, is it clear when a receiver/runner is "capable of avoiding or warding off the impending contact?" Like, what does that even mean? Second, what if a quarterback tries to block during a change of possession? Can you not hit him?

Anybody confused?

Obviously, a player should not target the head or neck area of another player. Also, a player making a tackle shouldn't lead with his helmet. This is common sense, and most players have been doing a better job with this lately, but what if a receiver/runner lowers his head at the last moment after the tackling player had already made an action?

This is where the NFL has given unworthy fines and suspensions. Players can't predict the future, so if a receiver/runner lowers his head at the last second, it's their own fault. The last thing I want to see is a player holding up on his tackle in fear of injuring another player. This is the NFL, and players make millions of dollars, so they should be willing and able to take a hit. Most, if not all players, know the risk they're getting into by playing this high-octane game.

Players should be tackling opponents in the middle portion of the body, but it's not that easy. Plays happen at a very quick speed, and sometimes players juke and jive, altering their body positions. If a tackler aims high, it's a possible head injury. If a tackler aims low, it's a possible knee injury. Ask any player if they'd rather sustain a concussion or a knee injury, and they'd probably choose a concussion. A knee injury can end a players season; a concussion sidelines them for a few weeks.

According to an Edgeworth Economics study, injuries that make a player miss at least eight days has increased from 2009 to 2012. Based on information collected, concussions cause a player to miss an average of 16 days; players missed an average of four days in 2005. In 2009, the study found that 1,095 injuries sidelined players for at least eight days; that number increased over the next three years — 1,272 in 2010, 1,380 in 2011, and 1,496 in 2012.

Summation?

NFL players are still getting stronger and faster, and when they collide, bad things can happen. It's just the nature of the game. Players are at risk of getting rocked at any moment, and, honestly, if I was making millions of dollars, it would be something worth dealing with. 

The NFL tries to crack down on "illegal" hits, but some are unavoidable. Deal with it.