Posted on: January 23, 2009 11:39 am

The case of Ryan Clark

The great Don Cherry, past coach of the Boston Bruins and said to be the best color commentator in all of sports, made the argument that hockey would be much safer if they recalled the mandatory helmet rule.  Before helmets, players who got their sticks up above the shoulders could count on heavy physical harrassment on and off the ice from opposing players, and derision from their own team members.  Having played ice hockey for 25 years, with and without a helmet, I can say there is an undeniable truth to Mr. Cherry's argument.  We all have certain responsibilities to control our own behavior, on and off the sports field. 

But back to football.  My heart came up into my throat on Sunday, as I watched Willis McGahee lying on the field during the waning minutes of the AFC Championship.  No one is saying that Ryan Clark's brutal hit was illegal, even though it easily could have ended in paralysis for either player.  Similarly, neither was his hit on Wes Walker earlier in the year.  It is possible to argue though, that he wouldn't have made such a flying, shoulder high 'tackle' if he wasn't wearing a helmet, effectively turning his body into a battering ram.  After all, you don't see such hits in professional rugby.

To the argument that such physicality is in the nature of football, let me assure you as a hockey player that I fully understand.  For instance, the no contact rule made in many cities for youngsters playing either hockey or football is in my estimation a bad one, both for the kids' development and maturation.  And we are not about to once again make helmets in either sport voluntary.

But it is already illegal for helmet to helmet contact in those instances where a player can not be expected to see the oncoming charge, or is otherwise 'defenseless.'  Obviously the league is worried about the dire consequences of such hits.  And given those consequences, and the impenetrable psychology inspired by helmets,  it is at least worthwhile to investigate and debate the practicality of making ALL instances of helmet to helmet contact illegal.

Please share your thoughts.

Category: NFL
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