Tight end Tony Gonzalez has missed only two regular-season games in a career that stretches back to 1997. As he prepares to play his last one, he wants more pass-catchers to have a chance to avoid serious injury, too.
“The NFL has to do something to stop receivers in the open field from getting blindsided and hit in the knees,” Gonzalez recently told Peter King of TheMMQB.com. “Look what happened to Rob Gronkowski. He’s not the only one. You don’t want your stars, you don’t want anyone, to be taken out like that.”
Of course, what happened to Rob Gronkowski likely wouldn’t be protected by an expansion of the rules to protect defenseless players against being hit at or below the knee. Gronkowski had caught a pass and had taken a couple of steps before he was hit low by Browns safety T.J. Ward.
The rules could indeed change to protect players who are “blindsided” with a low hit not after choosing to run with the ball but when trying to catch it. While the NFL isn’t facing the same political, legal, and existential pressure to protect the ligaments within knees as the league currently confronts when it comes to protecting the brains within skulls, careers can be ended or limited by a low hit that comes when a player isn’t ready for it.
The goal of the low hit in football is to give the smaller player a way to knock down a larger player. For large players who are truly defenseless as the NFL has defined the term, it should be easier to knock them down because they aren’t bracing for the blow. It therefore makes sense to create a strike zone that protects two of the most important body parts for any pro athlete — the joints that help their legs move and the organ that instructs them to.