Washington coach Jay Gruden has vowed to suspend safety Brandon Meriweather for two practices if he hits teammates higher than he should. Could new teammate Ryan Clark help Meriweather stay on the right side of the rules?
“I don’t know if you have ever watched any film of me, you know what I mean?” Clark told reporters on Sunday regarding whether he has talked to Meriweather about his style of play. “It would be like the pot calling the kettle black. You’re supposed to play this game with reckless abandon. I think when you don’t play it full speed, when you don’t play it as physical as you could possibly play it, you leave yourself at a disadvantage. You put yourself in harm’s way.”
Clark said he eventually plans to share some of the wisdom that comes from playing the game for a long time with Meriweather.
“What I will tell him is ‘Keep your money,'” Clark said. “You want to keep your money. You want to not hurt other guys. We never want to go out there and injure people, but I’ve been a part of some of the biggest collisions in the last 10 years of football at some of the biggest times. I’ve been laid out on the field with other guys. I want him to stay healthy and I changed my game in that sense in order to not hurt the team. You don’t want to give up 15 yards when you stop the team. We’ve talked about it in the sense of him keeping his money and a sense of him staying on the field but some of us understand the risk we take when we play this game.”
It’s nevertheless a fine balance, especially with Clark now a member of the NFLPA Executive Commitee and former players now suing the NFLPA, using past public complaints from union leadership regarding the league office’s efforts to make the game safer against the NFLPA.
“I was asked, would I change the way I played or would I decide not to play it because of what I know now?” Clark said. “And I wouldn’t. It’s a dream and this is what we decide to do and if you love it, you do it. The stuff you deal with in the end, you deal with, and that’s the way God planned it. God gave us these talents and He put us in this position, and who I am to question where God has put me?”
If, as it seems, Clark believes that the injuries players suffer as a result of playing football are part of a broader, Divine plan, he shouldn’t argue (as he has in the past) about efforts from the league office to make the game safer. Whether inspired by a Higher Power or the legal system (or both), the NFL has been trying to compel players to play the game more safely. The notion that players play the game because God has given them the talent to play it and thus the injuries are simply a product of the talent God has given them overlooks the role that the players, the league office, and NFLPA leadership (of which Clark is now a member) can have in finding ways to allow an inherently dangerous game to be played as safely as it can be played.
It’s a delicate balance for any player to strike. It becomes even more delicate when a player with a track record of criticizing the league’s efforts to make the game safer now serves on the body with a legal duty to protect the health and safety of all players.