Goodell misses opportunity to educate fans, media on illegal hits

In the first 10 minutes of ESPN’s Monday NFL Countdown, sideline reporter Michele Tafoya said something that reminded us of the infinite ESPN loop of video of Steelers linebacker James Harrison’s legal hit on Browns receiver Josh Cribbs during discussions about the proliferation of illegal hits.

“[Hines] Ward told us he thinks that players aren’t really sure what the league wants,” Tafoya said.  “And there’s one point of contention in particular.  When a ball carrier crouches or moves, putting his head or neck in the line of fire at the very last second, well Harrison told us that NFL director of operation Merton Hanks, a former All Pro safety himself, said, ‘In those circumstances, it is the tackler, the defender, who has to be responsible for making the adjustment.  Harrison told us that explanation makes absolutely no sense.”

It definitely makes no sense because it was presented with a flawed premise.  When a “ball carrier” ducks his head at the last minute and absorbs a shoulder or a helmet to the head, it’s not a violation of the rules.  A “ball carrier” isn’t a “defenseless player.”  A “ball carrier” therefore assumes the risk of getting hit in the head when he lowers his head just before impact.

I started to write an item explaining how ESPN’s chronic ignorance of the rules and their nuances is doing a disservice to the fans and, ultimately, to the game.  But then it was mentioned that Commissioner Roger Goodell would be talking with Tafoya.

Good, we thought.  Goodell will use the opportunity to explain to Tafoya the difference between ball carriers and defenseless players.

Goodell had a chance to clear it all up.  And he didn’t.

Asked by Tafoya to identify the disconnect between the league office and the locker room, Goodell offered no specifics.  “Well, it’s one of the things you always strive for is to make sure the players understand the rules, understand exactly the techniques that we’re focused on,” Goodell said.  “We spent a lot of time in the offseason doing that.  The rules haven’t changed.  But there’s a greater emphasis on safety.  And we have to make sure we make the game as safe as possible.  And we have to do everything we can to educate the players.  It’s one of the reasons we brought James in, so that we could give him an opportunity to ask the questions, I could hear his perspective, and our football people could have a conversation with him.” 

That’s really not an answer that helps anyone better understand the situation.  What he should have said (or, at a minimum, what we would have said) is this:  “All we ask is that defenseless players not be hit in the head or with the head, and that no player launch with his helmet into a player who has just completed the act of catching a pass.”       

Tafoya asked next about criticism from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin that the “drastic adjustment” made during the season is an “emotional reaction.”

“There are no rule changes,”Goodell said.  “We didn’t change the rule.  So we didn’t make a drastic change.  All we did is said if you violate that rule, for safety reasons, we’re going to increase the discipline. . . .  This isn’t an emotional decision.  This is one that’s about the safety of our players.”  (That was a good question, and a good answer.)

Then came the money question.  The “ball carrier” dipping his head question.  The opportunity for Goodell to clarify for ESPN and anyone else who doesn’t understand the difference between a helmet-to-helmet hit on a “ball carrier” and a “defenseless receiver.”

Instead, he agreed that “it’s a difficult position to put a defender in.”

It should be no surprise, then, that so many fans believe the NFL is trying to take the toughness out of the sport.  At a time when the media and others stewards of the game are failing to clearly explain what the rules prohibit and what the rules permit, those inclined to grumble about the perceived breadth of the changes will have plenty of ammunition to convince themselves and others that the NFL has gone soft.       

At some point, Goodell needs to sit down for an in-depth interview with someone who understands the rules — and at that time he needs to explain precisely where the line between permissibly rough play and impermissibly dirty play resides. Until that happens, too many members of the media, and thus even many more fans, will remain confused.

47 responses to “Goodell misses opportunity to educate fans, media on illegal hits

  1. Agree. My opinion is that he is not comfortable with the whole situation and may have backed himself into a corner with these large fines.

  2. Don’t worry Florio. Anybody who is anybody reads your rag and the gospel of proper technique will be spread to the masses.
    Or you can bring the World up to date while your talking to the masses during Sunday Night Football.

  3. Can an offensive player be sited with an illegal hit if he lowers his helmet and uses it to get into the endzone, hitting a linebacker so hard the linebacker is knocked out, in a helmet to helmet, or is this a defense only penalty?
    Austin Collie got hit so hard he forgot he was Morman and thought he was a lutheran for a few minutes and I am so glad he was not hurt worse, but according to the rules, it wasn’t an illegal hit, in my opinion and I am a Colts fan. So yeah, I was really disappointed watching the commish on the pregame and his response. This rule doesn’t seem to be able to be consistant and thus unfair.

  4. There’s Jaworski saying the same STUPID thing and I’ll say the same thing that I’d say to anyone: when you lead with your HEAD and the guy ducks, it’s YOUR fault. If you FORM TACKLE then you’re NOT leading with your head and if the guy ducks, you’re NOT going to hit him with your head — PERIOD. END OF DISCUSSION. If you believe that this can’t be avoided then you’ve proven that Forest Gump is a lot smarter than you are.

  5. This whole thing is too complicated and involves the refs too much. It also cedes too much football judgment to Goodell, who has never played the game. Every hit now comes with a fine. It’s absurd.
    Someone needs to put the brakes on this train before Goodell irretrievably changes the nature of the game.

  6. For the first time ever, I’m not fully enjoying this season. Too many points of contention. This isn’t fun.

  7. Goodell couldnt teach a paper bag how to get wet in a monsoon.
    Maybe instead of pussifying the league, he should worry about getting an agreement laid out so there is a season next year.

  8. Morons in the broadcast booth did their best to defend vicous hits by emphasizing that “when a defender lowers his head going in to an offensive player and that player lowers his head…”
    This shows that the defender is actually NOT using good tackling skills but actually using his helmet as a weapon and spearing the opponent. Steelers been teaching these types of cheap shot artists for years. (Harrison, Porter, Polamalu…)

    Drew Brees had his BACK turned to Harrison. Harrison has a completely clean shot at Brees… and what does he do?
    The dude isn’t TRYING to hurt anyone, he’s just THAT DUMB. Why would you take your eyes off what you’re trying to hit anyway?
    Hines Ward just lost a fumble because he lowered his head and stopped looking at the defender coming at him. The Defender could have easily been avoided if Hines Ward was looking up.

  10. precisely why in the modern era more commentators/analysts/journalists should have law degrees like you florio. too many rules, not enough explanation- just a lot of tell it how it is, but not really because they dont even know how it is.
    and the qualifications for refs need to be upped as well! who doesn’t agree??? the NFL can bring 106 uber talented football players to the stadium every weekend, but cant manage to do the same with 5 effin refs?! i was embarrassed to be a football fan yesterday (especially the jet/lion game no td/td call-that was pathetic! ive seen babies given the choice of a red or green lollipop act less indecisive )

  11. No real questions were asked, and I’m sure he wouldnt allow espn to ask him tough questions.
    They should let Gregg Williams or one of the Ryan brothers interview Goodell… They won’t hold back, might even hit him lol

  12. This guy is a moron! someone this to sack him out of office, perhaps knock his head off so he finds out what an illegal hit really is. I’ve watched players get fine 10-20K for really dumb hits that was more on the offensive player ducking his head more than the defensive player trying to hit his head… No player will want to play defense anymore, this is getting out of control.

  13. The problem is not cracking down on illegal hits. It is the inconsistency that the calls are made by the refs, the fines levied by the NFL and the ridiculous attempts to make legal hits seem illegal because of the aftermath. At least they didn’t fine the kid for the hit on collie.

  14. Goodell expects players to run full speed and deliver impeccably clean hits on a moving target, reciting rule 1291.101.24.(b) in their head as they try to stop the guy with the ball, but he doesn’t seem to care that his officiating crews appear to be drunk off their asses during games. Yesterday there were about 7 cops working the KC-Raider game, and between them they couldn’t even keep track of down-and-distance. It would be a scandal if it generated more page hits.

  15. He doesn’t care whether fans or players are educated. He is an unprincipled, arrogant man. It sounds lovely to say you’re concerned about player safety, but if that were true, he’d work harder to educate players–and he’d work to educate offensive players about not lowering their heads. And he wouldn’t be trying to minimize benefits to retired players or cut insurance coverage for active players. Nor would the league have cut funding to spinal cord research on his watch.
    In other words, he’s a big fat liar.
    James’s hit on Brees may have been late but it was legal. The still photos show that. Flag, okay. Fine … are you kidding? Goodell targeted James last week because Tomlin spoke out about the league trying to use him for its own PR reasons. You don’t diss the Emperor or his minions.
    And those fools in Cincy lining up to get this guy’s autograph?? Unreal.

  16. What is he going to explain when the situation is as clear as mud. The old rules “a blow to the head” were sufficient. Guys also get concussions hitting the ground. What would be the new rule for that?

  17. I’m a defenseless receiver that can’t be hit in the head.
    According to LoFlo, I move my head and it’s now OK because I am no longer defenseless.
    So how much do I have to move my head? One foot, one inch, one millimeter?
    What direction do I have to move? Up, down sideways??
    Between the time I catch the ball and I am hit, how exactly can I prevent my head from moving? Isn’t some movement inevitable?
    Yep, sure sounds like a crystal clear, totally unambiguous rule to me.

  18. Goodell is, among other things, a politician; hence, his posturing above.
    On one hand, Goodell wants to portray an image that player safety is priority one, though that is contradicted by the track record of the NFL in stubbornly refusing to disqualify or suspend a player for a FLAGRANT helmet-to-helmet (or other head-related) hit against a DEFENSELESS player, as in the recent case of Packers safety Nick Collins.
    On the other hand, Goodell is aware of the growing outcry by fans, like myself, and current/former players alike that the NFL is over-reacting in certain cases, such as Myron Pryor’s hit on “Lord” Favre. Indeed, former NFL VP of Officiating Mike Pereira opined that Pryor’ hit “appeared to be a perfectly legal play.” So, why was Pryor’s $7,500 fine identical to teammate Gary Guyton’s for his obvious helmet-to-helmet hit on Favre?
    As a practical matter, Goodell will never be able to take Myron Pryor’s hit out of the game because it is a part of it.

  19. “At some point, Goodell needs to sit down for an in-depth interview with someone who understands the rules — and at that time he needs to explain precisely where the line between permissibly rough play and impermissibly dirty play resides.”
    Gee, Florio, I wonder who you’d recommend for that assignment. If only you had some sort of “single white male” infatuation with a well coiffed member if the NBC pregame show…
    You know, the type who has his own radio show…

  20. I’d say to anyone: when you lead with your HEAD and the guy ducks, it’s YOUR fault. If you FORM TACKLE then you’re NOT leading with your head and if the guy ducks, you’re NOT going to hit him with your head — PERIOD. END OF DISCUSSION. If you believe that this can’t be avoided then you’ve proven that Forest Gump is a lot smarter than you are.———————–
    STFU retard. All ball carriers lead with their head. You check out the Collie hit last night. Dude lowered his head toward the point of contact… all ball carriers do. Go watch Adrian Peterson on any play and watch him lower his head. I can go on and on. Now shut your mouth and go sit in the corner until I give you permission to come out, kid.

  21. explain how harrison’s tackle/sack of palmer was not illegal YET the later time palmer was hit at the exact same level but in front instead of from behind is a LOW HIT! the rules were written solely for refs to control momentum and outcome of games. there is no difference between either those 2 hits tonight. excep-t the orders ref hyad to obey.

  22. @edgy1957
    If that’s what you want to watch, go watch a sissy sport like rugby. One of the biggest differences between rugby and football is that, without pads, rugby players don’t launch them selves so there are no “big hits.” In the NFL, players launch themselves into other players to create the big hit, which is the most exciting part of the sport.
    I would have a WAY easier time giving a crap about players safety if the didn’t get paid millions to play it. The list of the top 100 most dangerous jobs, measured by deaths, injuries, and long term effects, doesn’t include the NFL. And most of the jobs on the list, don’t come with a salary as large as the average NFL player.
    So if these guys don’t want to play a sport in which they can get hurt, then don’t. Finish the free ride to college you got and get a real job. Otherwise, shut up about safety and entertain me.

  23. Maybe the ones complaining about the hits should try out for cheerleader…THIS IS WHY GIRLS DON’T PLAY THE GAME!!

  24. Read between the lines, folks…
    The NFL is a business, chief priority : making money.
    The essence of the game right now is an unfortunate woman in the men’s room with a certain QB from the AFC North, going to get taken whether it likes it or not.
    They are only worrying about safety so much right now because the CBA talks are going on, highest focus being on the 18 game season.
    You can’t have an 18 game season with a bunch of injuries, nobody would watch, so they are only protecting the skill positions, the guys who score points which leads to viewership>commercials>$$$.
    There WILL be an agreement…Too much money to lose without one, you’ll see. Or we’ll just watch the UFL 😀

  25. I just find it funny that when the league says they don’t want to promote “the brutality” of the game when in actuality their doing it even more! When a player is fined, the hit of the fine is showed times and times over so everybody knows that it was a bad hit. The NFL should let the players take care of this. Take the commissioners’ office out of the equation and let the players regulate themselves. They could even make a show out of it and have the viewers vote too! Lol

  26. if you watced the interview you are a real fan, since it’s pregame, and knew what she meant by the “ball carrier”. Especially since she brought up Harrison as an example. Just another way Florio can get in another article that makes him look like the all knowing.

  27. Goodell can’t answer any questions for the players about collective bargaining when he shows up at camp and is clueless about why most people watch pro football as well ——– When Goodell talks all I hear is Blah blah blah blah blah ——- The NFL is going to make way less money when people stop or never start in the first place being interested in this fast becoming wussy ass two hand touch crap football league ——- If someone lunches themselves at someones head just to try and hurt them fine them $200,000 dollars for all I care but they are clearly taking the toughness out of the game and destroying the game ——- I would rather watch 12 real pro football games then 18 or even 30 of this watered down crap their trying to shove down our throats

  28. I saw Steeler defenders purposely slamming opponents to the ground yet no flag was thrown.

  29. Mike, please explain the disconnect between this piece and the ones you and MDS wrote after the Eagles-Colts game. In those pieces, you both wrote that the hit on Collie was an example of the hits defenders aren’t allowed to make, with MDS saying that such a dirty hit could very well result in both a fine and a suspension. In this article, according to the very rules you mentioned, not only is the hit not a fineable or suspendable offense, it’s not a penalty.
    The refs were clearly wrong when they stated Collie was a defenseless receiver. Collie caught the ball, tucked it into his chest, turned and took two or three steps up field, and then hunched his body to protect himself from the hit he saw coming. He also chose to try and split two defenders. So, according to your own accurate description of the rules in this article, the hit on Collie was perfectly legal. Neither player launched themselves. Both led with their shoulders, and both aimed at Collies shoulder. In fact, both hit Collie in the shoulder. The only difference between the hits is that the first impact altered Collie’s momentum and sent his head moving towards Coleman, thereby creating an incidental collision. Granted, the outcome was undesirable, but you can’t site someone for a personal foul based on the outcome of the play. You have to make the call based on the nature of the hit itself. In this case, it wasn’t until it was clear that Collie was hurt that the flag was thrown. So, if the league wants players to understand the rules (which is necessary if they’re going to follow them), perhaps the officials should be consistent in calling the penalties.

  30. LMAO @the tool calling rugby a sissy sport. They don’t NEED maxi pads, because they are real men, not overpaid, lotion using, whining, excuse making little bitches that are there to entertain you. Rugby players respect the game, which can’t necessarily be said about your precious NFL man crushes.
    Anyone who believes rugby is a sissy sport has zero credibility, zero.

  31. I still maintain that Coleman’s hit on Collie, was not intentional, but he did lower his shoulder as collie’s head moved and IMO in this new emphasis of rules in protecting from head injuries, is indeed unnecessary roughness, and a penalty. But I don’t think Coleman did it on purpose either.

  32. Florio, if you still dont know maybe you never will. Its clear to me what the NFL deems illegal. It should be to all of you as well.

  33. Harrison doesn’t seem particularly intelligent.
    All he has to do is stop dropping his head – period!
    Every time the dude tackles he drops his head and hits with the top of it.
    To make it simple – if you see the ground when you hit – it is illegal.
    If you see the ball carrier when you hit – it is legal.
    The guy has an IQ that would rival Forrest Gump.

  34. goodell is an idiot ! he’s trying to be the my way or the highway guy but doesn’t have the brass for it! he ruining football i think i’ll go watch the local chess team?

  35. What about the penalty for a had hitting the back of P. Manning’s head. That should be question to ask. I think that is a little out of control. He was going for the ball and locked up with a lineman, his hand hits the helmet and that is roughing the passer?

  36. Goodell is out of touch with the game; he’s all about the business end of things but he doesn’t understand the fans or the players and he a fundamental misunderstanding of what happens on the field.
    That’s pretty pathetic.
    And SteveW’s comment is spot on, Florio. The Collie hit was legal. Shouldn’t have been a penalty.

  37. Would have been nice for the question of the total difference in fine amounts given for the same type play? The network showed they were just as scared to ask the right questions as the owners and union. His standard answer we did not change anything the rule as been there was totally lame on his side.

  38. Agreed, SteveW pointed out a huge disconnect between stories. Here’s Florio bashing others for not clarifying things, and he cannot even do it himself. The Collie hit was legal; the fact a concussion results does not make a hit illegal. That would be even worse than the BS they are currently trying to pull.

  39. You know you are getting old if you devote a huge chunk of time to “if I was king” rant.
    Again- those of us that read PFT are stunned beyond words that Florio is not hired by the NFL to solve its problems. I mean with his vast experience as a player, coaching, and building a team he is a shoe in- right? His knowledge is so much above that of a informed blogger- am I right?

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