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James Harrison explains his concerns about safety rules

James Harrison

FILE - This Oct. 17, 2010, file photo shows Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison (92) lining up against the Cleveland Browns during the second quarter of a an NFL football game, in Pittsburgh. Harrison states his objective matter-of-factly: He’s out to hurt any opposing player who roams into his vicinity. (AP Photo/Don Wright, File)


As the NFL continues to implement the ultimate safety procedures via a lockout that ensures players won’t be in harm’s way because they aren’t allowed on the field, Steelers linebacker James Harrison has elaborated on his concerns regarding the league’s ongoing tweaking of rules aimed at protecting players.

Harrison and other players are concerned that the rules aren’t clear. Linebackers Scott Fujita and linebacker London Fletcher separately told PFT Live last week that there’s a disconnect between the rules and the manner in which the game is played in real time.

“I understand the intent behind making the rules, but in their attempt to make the game safer, they are actually clouding what is allowable,” Harrison recently said on his personal blog. “Even the referees are confused. A close look will show you that the referees were calling things that were not even supposed to be called, and NOT calling things that were actually illegal.”

In an appearance on ESPN’s NFL Live, Harrison explained that his primary concern relates to rules regarding the use of the helmet, and the inconsistent throwing of flags and imposition of fines when the rules regarding blows to or with the helmet are (or aren’t) broken. Harrison specifically complained about incidental helmet contact, explaining that he never has been fined for deliberately launching with his helmet.

Harrison agrees with the need to protect the players, but he says the players understand that there are certain risks inherent to playing football. "[W]hen it comes down to it, it’s an assumption of risk that you take when you play the game,” Harrison told NFL Live. “If it’s not worth it to you, then you get out of it.”

Harrison is right. When elite football players move at full speed, there will be various forms of incidental contact. The fact that the players believe they face arbitrary fines for the random collisions by and between helmets suggests that, as currently constituted, the rules are indeed too random.

One common gripe arises from the apparent failure of the folks who make the rules to factor the realities of playing football into the official collection of football’s thou shalt nots. Perhaps if more time were spent working directly with the players in the hopes of properly shaping the changes to reflect the delicate balance between blowing up a receiver and blowing an opportunity to stop the opponent from scoring points, the NFL would be passing new rules that the defensive players would regard as somewhat more tolerable.