Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Helmet to helmet

I don't usually watch Playbook on the NFL Network. Too much Solomon Wilcots and Brian Baldinger. Not enough people who aren't Solomon Wilcots or Brian Baldinger. But for whatever reason, here I am watching it. At the end of the show, there's a segment called "Hit Parade," sponsored by the heartburn remedy Prilosec OTC (for once, something in the NFL sponsored by a drug other than alcohol or boner pills). This segment features the hardest hits from the past weekend, including Byron Leftwich getting pancaked by Dwight Freeney, and Ben Roethlisberger getting blown up by Antwan Peek.

That's all fine. NFL football ain't played in short pants. Hitting's part of the game. But the hit featured most prominently was Bears safety Mike Brown headhunting Lions tight end Marcus Pollard. Brown not only led with his helmet, which is a penalty, he also blasted Pollard in the head, which is another penalty. The local radio call, played over the highlight, mentions the four flags thrown on the play. The hit was shown at full speed, then in slow motion, and then we got to see a dazed Pollard rolling around on the turf. The play was a textbook example of the type of hit the NFL tells its players to avoid, the type thats put both tackler and tacklee in jeopardy.

This isn't ESPN's "Jacked Up" segment, mind you. "Jacked Up" usually shows only clean -- or at least borderline -- hits. This was a production of the NFL, the same NFL that regularly fines players for leading with the helmet when tackling. The same NFL that makes a blow to the head a 15-yard foul. We can praise the NFL for giving its network a certain measure of independence, but the network is still an arm of the league. And the league can't have it both ways. It can't tell players not to hit with the helmet, then turn around and make music-video moments out of helmet hits. That stuff's gotta make Tagliabue reach for the Prilosec.

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