RENTON, Wash. – While watching a game Saturday night, one of the most ferocious hitters in Seahawks history weighed in on his area of expertise.
“These hit calls suck,” tweeted Kam Chancellor. “I thought this was football.”
An hour later, Chancellor’s former Legion of Boom comrade Richard Sherman replied.
“Smh it’s so bad,” tweeted Sherman.
About 90 minutes after that, Chancellor added one more comment.
“It’s not football anymore,” he typed.
This was a common sentiment two nights earlier, when Seahawks rookie safety Marquise Blair picked up an unnecessary roughness penalty after tattooing Broncos receiver Nick Williams on a seam route. The replay showed what appeared to be a clean hit, as Blair led with his right shoulder before the collision.
A yellow-flag shower ensued nonetheless, and after the game, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll explained that Blair could have avoided the penalty had he led with his left shoulder. This would have been inconceivable just a few years earlier.
Football has long been synonymous with violence, and the NFL has taken measures over the years to try and keep players safer. But is it possible it has gone too far?
I asked former Seahawk turned radio host Cliff Avril that question Monday afternoon. He seemed to side with his former teammates.
“It is definitely getting a little soft. I understand what they are trying to do with the player safety, but at the same time, the reason people watch football is for the contact,” Avril said, adding that the key is trying to find that “fine balance.” “Any time someone looks like they blew somebody up for whatever reason, it looks like it’s going to be a flag, and that’s unfortunate.”
Note that Chancellor and Avril each suffered career-ending injuries in 2017. But they also get that such risks come with playing one of the most brutal sports in the world.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson does, too.
Monday, Wilson said that he understood why the NFL has made so many rule changes in the name of safety. He acknowledged the brain and neck injuries that have plagued players long after they retired, and noted that the amendments better protect the hitter and the hittee.
But he also saw where Kam and others were coming from.
“I would agree with some of (their) thought,” said Wilson, who then alluded to Blair’s hit on Williams. “The guy’s running a seam route. He makes a great play. He smokes him. He hits him, in my opinion, pretty clean.
“I think to the naked eye, it seems too physical. At the same time, the reality is the ball probably shouldn’t go there. I think that’s just the reality. I think that’s just part of the game. That’s what we grew up playing.”
Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was playing football long before Wilson and company. And back in his day, blowing someone up was the quickest way to becoming a locker-room legend.
But Norton has also seen the damage such hits have taken on his peers’ minds and bodies. So old school as he might be, he’s fine with the new rules.
“I’m all for the safety. I’m from the era where tackling was all out. If you knock somebody out it’s a big deal and you become a hero,” Norton said. “But now I’m at the age where people my age are feeling the effects of that. So I’m all for the safer tackling.”
Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright is with his coach on that one. He might not have been when he first entered the league, but he’s seen what some of the older guys are dealing with now and what younger players might have to deal with later.
In fact, when his 3-year-old son sees football on TV, Wright tells him “Kameron, no football” in hopes of discouraging him from playing the sport. In the meantime, count him among those who are for safer play.
“I think (the rules) are just right,” Wright said. “I’m all for smacking guys, knocking the snot out their nose – I’m all for hard hits. What I’m not for is them putting themselves in danger. If guys are hitting guys correctly, then cool. If you’re hitting guys incorrectly and get a 15-yard penalty, that’s fine.”
It’s not as though there aren’t highlight-worthy hits anymore. Avril knows this as well as anyone. And like Wright, he’d prefer his children not play football.
But Avril also wonders if overcompensation might make the NFL less popular down the road.
“People like the contact, because it’s the only place you can get it,” Avril said. “So if you start playing flag, I’m not sure people are going to tune in.”
I asked Wright if he agreed the rules might push some fans away. He didn’t.
“They’re not going anywhere,” he said.
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