Hits to the head are drawing increased scrutiny from the NFL, in the wake of a weekend that saw several of them leave players knocked out on the field. There's even talk of suspensions for future incidents in an effort to force players to be more diligent about avoiding them.
Judging by Steelers linebacker James Harrison's response to the outcry over two hits he put on Browns receivers Sunday, that might be the only way to get players to stop. Harrison said it would be a travesty if he was fined for hits that knocked Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi out of Sunday's game. Then, he went a little bit further.
"I don't want to see anyone injured," Harrison said, "but I'm not opposed to hurting anyone.
"There's a difference. When you're injured, you can't play. But when you're hurt, you can shake it off and come back. I try to hurt people."
Video: Harrison's Brutal Hit on Cribbs
Harrison is splitting a pretty thin hair there, especially in light of the fact that both guys he tried to "hurt" on Sunday were rendered unable to play. Vocalizing his intent, whatever distinctions are drawn, probably won't help Harrison when the league decides on his punishment.
That's not to say that the hits were dirty simply because the two players were knocked silly. There didn't seem to be the same malicious intent that appeared to be in play when Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather -- who was equally unapologetic for his actions -- launched himself headfirst into Ravens tight end Todd Heap, for example. There are going to be blows to the head in a game as violent as professional football and some of them are going to come on plays that shouldn't be penalized.
Legal or dirty, the push to suspend players is going to be the best way for the league to cut down on hits to the head. Players aren't going to pull up or think twice because of a fine, in large part because the kinds of hits that draw fines are also the kinds of hits that wind up making players big money as free agents. Missing those plays, on the other hand, is a one-way ticket to the UFL.
Maybe Harrison's hits wouldn't be deemed worthy of suspension, but the league should be doing more to eliminate them whether the intent is to maim, injure or simply hurt another player.