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Setting Mark Schlereth straight on a few points regarding “big hits”

I’m due to appear on radio in Denver with ESPN’s Mark Schlereth at the bottom of the hour, and I’ve listened with great interest to his rants on SportsCenter and NFL Live.

Though I love his passion, I need to set him straight on a few key points.

First, he says the NFL is taking “big hits” out of the game. That’s not the case. The NFL is hoping to get illegal hits out of the game, specifically involving the use of the helmet against defenseless players and/or striking defenseless players in the head.

Of course, Schlereth is likely under the impression that “big hits” have been taken out of the game because for roughly 12 hours from Monday night until Tuesday morning ESPN left us all under the impression that “devastating hits” would be banned. As it turns out, ESPN was wrong to push that message -- but ESPN has never clarified nor apologized for creating that false impression.

Second, Schlereth objects to fining players but he has no problem with suspending them. But suspensions for matters of this nature occur without pay, so a suspension would result in both a player’s money and his ability to play being taken away.

Third, Schlereth complains that the NFL wants to take money away from players for big hits but doesn’t want to give money to retired players. However, the fine money goes directly to programs that benefit retired players. Also, the league has greatly improved benefits to retired players, including most recently the inclusion of players with Lou Gehrig’s Disease within the “88 Plan.”

On a broader note, media outlets need to do a better job of making it clear what is and isn’t permitted. When talking about James Harrison’s $75,000 fine on NFL Live, for example, ESPN plays video of both of Harrison’s helmet-to-helmet hits from Sunday against the Browns: (1) his hit on Josh Cribbs; and (2) his hit on Mohamed Massaquoi. But the Cribbs hit isn’t illegal -- so why in the hell is ESPN showing the Cribbs hit when talking about illegal hits?

There’s a lot of confusion out there right now, and ESPN to date has failed in its inherent mission to communicate clear information to the audience.

It’s not criticism. It’s fact. We’re here to serve the fans, and ESPN needs to do a better job in that regard on this critical issue.

And the NFL needs to make sure ESPN knows it. The potential damage ESPN is doing far outweighs the perceived indignity created by Playmakers, the fictional pro football series that the league office once strong armed ESPN into canceling.

UPDATE: Here’s the audio. I refrained from launching into another Matt Millen tantrum.