When Ravens safety Bernard Pollard drilled Patriots running back Stevan Ridley with a helmet-to-helmet hit on Sunday, it was a frightening moment: Ridley exhibited what’s known as the fencing response to brain trauma, extending his arms as he fell, and he appeared to be unconscious on the ground.
But for the Ravens, it was also an exhilarating moment: Helmet-to-helmet hits on ball carriers are legal, and it was a clean hit that forced a game-changing fumble. So Ravens coach John Harbaugh is praising Pollard for the hit.
“That was the turning point of the game,” Harbaugh said, via The Sports Network. “That was the turning point of the football game there on the 40-yard-line. It was just a tremendous hit. It was football at its finest. It was Bernard Pollard making a great physical tackle — just as good a tackle as you’re ever going to see in football right there. That just probably turned the game around right there.”
Harbaugh has every right to celebrate: There’s no rule against that kind of hit, and that hit did, indeed, alter the game. Pollard did his job well on that play.
Still, it’s unsettling to see a player’s brain get damaged in front of our eyes like that, and some of the celebratory responses to the hit crossed the line. Particularly inappropriate was the way the hit was joked about on NFL Network’s NFL AM this morning: Off camera, someone in the studio (it wasn’t clear who) sang a lullaby during a highlight of Ridley lying on the ground, as if there’s something funny about seeing a player unconscious, looking like he’s sleeping on the field.
Pollard’s hit was the kind of tough, physical football that every coach wants his safeties to play. But Ridley’s injury was also a stark example of how a man’s brain can be damaged on a football field.