In a dirty, physical game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers that ended ugly, the one turning point of the game has been left in the background a little.
Sometime in the third quarter, Ryan Shazier created a turnover for the visiting Steelers as he forced a fumble from Bengals running back Giovani Bernard. The 24-year-old was crushed by a head-to-head contact hit, knocking him unconscious which caused him to drop the football.
No penalty was called on the field. Many were saying that after catching the ball, Bernard had done enough to be an active runner, therefore it was a fair play. The incident caused outrage on the Cincinnati sideline, ruling the running back out of the game and inspiring both the comeback and the blow up to finish the game.
What was more infuriating to me was not the decision by the referees, their hands were pretty much tied, but the reaction on social media that this was an okay, clean hit. A man was knocked out of a game, lost consciousness almost immediately and that simply can’t carry on.
With the amount of people having to end their careers prematurely, with players in the concussion protocol every single week and retired professionals suffering a worse quality of life because of what they suffered on the field cannot be allowed to go on.
It’s highlighted in the new film starring Will Smith, which will cast many more eyes on the NFL as they should do something to prevent them from happening. The first move should be this, too many tackles are led by the head or aimed at the head, when you can bring a man down just as easily, just as impactful and safely with a lowered-shoulder arm tackle.
There is no reason to do it with your head. Look at rugby, where you can stop anyone’s momentum with your body rather than your head. A good move might to be to get rid of helmets but they are so iconic that it could be very difficult to do but it allows players to believe they can do things like this.
Those that, even more absurdly, think that concussions and head injuries come with the territory are deluded. It isn’t boxing, where the intent is to hit someone in the head, and players will certainly have not signed on to repeatedly have concussion-like symptoms for their career.
I feel that the hits by Vontaze Burfict should also be highlighted as being very dangerous, as was hit unnecessary hit against the Baltimore Ravens last week. His suspension is justified and a terrifically talented player needs to reign his attitude in next season.
Also, credit to Shazier for tweeting that he didn’t intend to hurt Bernard, his celebrations on the sideline were clearly because he’d made a potentially big turnover but players know those hits are dangerous. They can cause an immediate stop to their momentum and can cause problems to the neck as well as potential long-term issues to the head.
In my opinion, hits like we saw by Shazier are inexcusable and are an archaic continuation from the older days of the NFL when head injuries were not as clearly recognised. The fact of the matter is that consistently taking blows of that magnitude to the head, both for the offender and receiver, will end with both put them in serious risk of future problems.