Steelers’ Harrison contemplating retirement after receiving latest fine

DENVER - AUGUST 29: Linebacker James Harrison  and defensive end Brett Keisel  of the Pittsburgh Steelers lead the defense against the Denver Broncos during preseason NFL action at INVESCO Field at Mile High on August 29, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Steelers 34-17. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

In a recent radio interview, Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison said that he would rather retire than be hamstrung by the kinds of rules that the NFL is now levying on players. He was fired $75,000 on Tuesday for hits on Browns’ receivers’ Mohammad Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs, yet he wasn’t flagged for either play on Sunday.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“How can I continue to play this game the way that I’ve been taught to play this game since I was 10 years old?” Harrison said on Sirius XM Radio this morning. “And now you’re telling me that everything that they’ve taught me from that time on, for the last 20-plus years, is not the way you’re supposed to play the game anymore. If that’s the case I can’t play by those rules. You’re handicapping me.”

Bill Parise, Harrison’s agent, confirmed that the linebacker is contemplating retirement, which is why he met with Tomlin this morning.

“That’s exactly true,” Parise said. “He met with the coach and left for today. He’s in the process of contemplating is it possible to play football under these new rules . . . ‘if I go to work and tackle somebody and get a fine.'”

In some respects, I feel for Harrison. Football has always been a survival-of-the-fittest game and a defender’s job is to ensure that the offense doesn’t pick up first downs (which are only 10 yards apart, mind you). You’re supposed to be punished when you go over the middle and with how fast the players are these days, concussions could happen whether they’re of the helmet-to-helmet variety or not.

It’s football – it’s supposed to hurt. And I don’t blame any defender for being upset that the league is punishing them for handing out big hits, as long as they’re not cheap shots.

But one thing Harrison and his agent need to realize is that the NFL is trying to figure out a way to keep their players as safe as possible. Football is a violent game and it’ll always be a violent game, but the league is trying to find answers to its growing concussion problems.

Unfortunately, they haven’t found a reasonable solution and they don’t appear to be close to finding one either. I don’t think fining players is the answer, but Harrison can’t take this personally – this isn’t about him. This is about the league trying to keep its players as healthy and as safe as possible (even if that’s a daunting task).

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Hopefully technology eventually catches up, but helmet-to-helmet hits remain a huge problem in NFL

Philadelphia Eagles' DeSean Jackson (10) is helped from the field after sustaining an injury against the Atlanta Falcons during second quarter of NFL football action in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, October 17, 2010. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer (UNITED STATES)

It was nasty. It was scary. It was rather unbelievable.

I watched Dunta Robinson’s hit on DeSean Jackson on Sunday live and with the sound all the way up. It was as big a hit as I’ve ever seen and I thought Jackson may never get up. It served as a painful reminder of how violent the game of football can be.

But what does the NFL want Robinson to do in that situation? As I wrote on Sunday following the game, do you want Robinson to lay Jackson down like a baby in a crib? Pull his flag? Two-hand touch him? Ask him politely to fall down in front of the first down marker?

You can see from the video that Robinson was already running to the ball after Kevin Kolb threw it. He was playing zone and once the ball was released, he spotted Jackson and ran to break up the pass. He was two steps too late, however, so he lowered his shoulder to try and separate Jackson from the ball. While others may see it differently, he didn’t stop, position himself and then launch into Jackson like a rocket ship coming off a launch bad. It was all one fluid motion.

Don’t misinterpret my defense of Robinson for not being concerned with Jackson’s (or any other player, for that matter) health. I love football and big hits just as much as anyone, but I too get a tingle up my spine when I see a player lie motionless on the turf.

But again I ask: What does the NFL want Robinson to do? Believe it or not, he led with his shoulder – not with his head. Obviously Jackson’s head caught a lot of the blow because it knocked him out, but Robinson still lead with his shoulder, which is what he’s instructed to do.

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Chris Henry’s death should motivate the NFL to be more proactive when it comes to the long-term health of players

I’m not a doctor and therefore, I’m not qualified to draw conclusions about what eventually happens to people’s brains after years of playing contact sports – most notably football.

But the latest news involving Chris Henry’s death has sprouted a discussion that everyone can be a part of because it strips away the football aspect of the game and reminds us that athletes’ long-term health is at risk.

Henry died last December when he fell out of the back of a truck and suffered serious head trauma. Despite the fact that he had no documented instances of concussions while at West Virginia or with the Bengals, recent reports state that he had suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, before his death. (In layman’s terms, he was dealing with brain damage even before he met his tragic end.)

According to doctors, symptoms of CTE can include failure at personal and business relationships, use of drugs and alcohol, depression and even suicide. Henry’s legal troubles over the years have been well documented and just recently, his mother claims that he suffered two concussions while playing high school football, which resulted in headaches. She also states that he started smoking marijuana right around the same time.

But just because Henry smoked pot doesn’t mean that it was because he had brain damage from playing football. He could have made a conscious decision to toke up, just as he could have made a conscious decision to conceal a firearm in January of 2006 (which led to an arrest), assault a valet attendant in Kentucky in 2007, as well as punch an 18-year-old boy while throwing a beer bottle through the window of his car in 2008.

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Report: Chris Henry had brain damage before he died

According to a report by the Cincinnati Enquirer, former Bengals receiver Chris Henry suffered from a chronic brain injury that may have influenced his mental state and behavior before he died last year.

Bailes and fellow researchers believe chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is caused by multiple head impacts, regardless of whether those blows result in a concussion diagnosis. A number of studies, including one commissioned by the NFL, have found that retired professional football players may have a higher rate than normal of Alzheimer’s disease and other memory problems.

What’s interesting, Bailes said, is that Henry was only 26, and neither NFL nor WVU records show he was diagnosed with a concussion during his playing career.

CTE carries specific neurobehavioral symptoms, Bailies said — typically, failure at personal and business relationships, use of drugs and alcohol, depression and suicide.

Bailes said he and Omalu have now analyzed the brains of 27 modern athletes, and the majority showed evidence of CTE. But it’s found in only a small number of players, he said.

Whether Henry’s brain damage can be attributed to playing football or not, it’s vital that doctors continue to research ways to make the game safer. Football is a violent game and while the league has taken steps to improve the equipment that players wear, they should never be satisfied when it comes to protecting the athletes.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Jamal Lewis done for the season, and his career

The Browns placed running back Jamal Lewis on injured reserve on Wednesday night with post-concussion symptoms, effectively ending his season and his career.

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Lewis, who previously announced this would be his last NFL season, has played his last down of football. He will retire as the 21st leading NFL rusher with 10,607 yards in 131 career games.

But Lewis’ place on the all-time rushing list is the furthest thing from his mind.

A source said that Lewis was “pretty shaken up” when an MRI test showed “brain abnormalities.” They may be the result of excessive trauma triggered by a recent hit. More tests will be done to determine the extent of Lewis’ injury, the source said.

The injuries to Lewis and Pool really bring home the wave of concussion awareness currently sweeping the NFL. Recent concussion injuries suffered by Philadelphia running back Brian Westbrook, Washington running back Clinton Portis, Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger accentuated national attention on the NFL’s need to deal better with head injuries.

The NFL is trying to make head injuries more of a priority by making players wait longer after they suffer post-concussion symptoms. With the amount of head injuries that players have suffered this year, it’s a good thing that the league is being more proactive but it’s still up to the players to be honest when they’re suffering any symptoms.

As for Lewis, his 2009 season will end with career lows in total yardage (588), touchdowns (0), catches (8) and rushing yards per game (55.6). He’ll mostly be remembered for his 2003 season with the Ravens when he rushed for 2,066 yards and 14 touchdowns on 387 carries. He rushed for 5.3 yards per carry that season and had 16 runs of 20-plus yards.

It’s unlikely that Lewis will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but he put together a nice career for himself and he’ll retire with a Super Bowl ring.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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