NFL Players Adjust To Crackdown On Illegal Hits

In the NFL Sunday, it was the first day of games since the league announced a crackdown on dangerous hits. And it seems the message got through — at least for now. There were no big-time defensive hits — though there was plenty of talk about the new policy.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Yesterday was not just any old Sunday in the NFL. It was the first day of games since the league announced a crackdown on dangerous hits. And it seems like the message got through - at least for now.�There were no big-time defensive hits yesterday, though there was plenty of talk about the new policy.�

NPR's Tom Goldman is with us now.

Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey, there. So remind us exactly what this new policy means and how it played out, actually, on the field. I mean, there were a lot of players very upset about this, saying if you're going to make us play this way, we might as well go play flag football. Is that what they had to do?

GOLDMAN: No, they didn't. They're still playing tackle football. And the new policy, it is not a new rule. It's basically enforcing the existing rules against hits to an opponent in the head and neck area, a defenseless opponent. And that was the new policy that came into play this last week.

So, yes. As I said, they're still playing tackle football. And at least for one NFL Sunday, it was football minus the motionless bodies lying on the field, the worried teammates kneeling around a fallen player, the medical staff loading a guy onto a stretcher. No players were penalized for illegal hits to the head in any of the 13 games.

And the head of NFL officiating, Carl Johnson, was quoted as saying: "I've seen a change in players' behavior in one week." You had guys basically talking afterwards about making conscious decisions to tackle an opponent low rather than high. And that included the defensive player who received the biggest fine for hits last weekend, hits that gave two players concussions.

James Harrison, the Pittsburgh linebacker, talked about one play where he was lining up a tackle on Miami's running back Ronnie Brown. And he said I had a chance to put my head in there, and it looked like he was crouching down. I didn't want to get a helmet-to-helmet hit. I didn't put my face in there. And then he went down, and luckily he didn't scamper for another 10 to 15 yards.

KELLY: Well, and, of course, not just a one-weekend crackdown. I mean, the NFL has acknowledged, you know, these violent hits and all of the head injuries and concussions are a major issue. Is the league talking about a long-term commitment to this new policy?

GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah. I mean, it says that this is the new policy. We are going to enforce the existing rules. And for one weekend, they didn't really have to, because the players took it upon themselves to not break those rules on illegal hits. We will see going forward if what happened yesterday represents a real change, then the NFL can move onto other things like, say, the Brett Favre investigation.

KELLY: Well, and that's enough to keep the league busy. What is the latest on that investigation?

GOLDMAN: Favre reportedly admitted leaving voicemails for the former New York Jets game hostess Jenn Sterger. She worked for the Jets in 2008 when Favre was the quarterback there. He reportedly denied sending Sterger inappropriate photos. The NFL hopes to wrap up the investigation on the next week to 10 days, and we'll see if it leads to a suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct rules.

KELLY: Well, Tom, before I let you go, I want to pivot quickly and talk baseball for a second, just because since we last talked to you, the World Series is set. We've got the Texas Rangers and the San Francisco Giants.�What do you think? Good series?

GOLDMAN: Good for baseball. Two new teams on this big a stage, both pulled off upsets of favored opponents. The Rangers beat the Yankees. The Giants beat the Phillies. Texas in its first World Series. Giants in their first since 2002. They haven't won since 1954, when they were the New York Giants. So a lot of people are looking forward to it. Your guess is as good as mine who's going to win this thing.

KELLY: All right. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

Thanks a lot.

GOLDMAN: My pleasure.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: This is NPR News.

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