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Madden: NFL overdoes anti-violence kick

Saturday, November 17, 2001

Hines Ward did absolutely nothing wrong when his block Sunday knocked out Cleveland defensive back Earl Little. Little didn't have his head on a swivel -- love that cliche -- as per NFL requirements, and he paid the price for it. Little isn't dead, he can still walk and talk, and he can still play football. No blood -- literally -- and, just as literally, no foul. No flag was thrown.

Yet Ward was fined $5,000.

The fine was levied because Ward allegedly taunted Little after the collision, but I saw no evidence of that. Nor did the officials. Like I said, no flag.

Anyway, Little was unconscious, so he didn't even know whether or not he was being taunted. It's not like Ward stuffed an insulting note in Little's pocket so he could read it after he came to.

But Ward still was fined $5,000. The reality of the situation is this: Ward wasn't fined for taunting. That was just an excuse to justify taking his money. Ward was really fined for making a violent, potentially injury-causing block.

Sure, the block was legal. But the NFL seems to want less violence. That's like Wall Street wanting less greed. Wall Street is in the greed business. The NFL is in the violence business. Yet the NFL seems to be steering its product toward skill and precision and away from violence. Which is a shame for two reasons: 1) outside of St. Louis, the NFL is almost devoid of skill and precision, and 2) fans prefer violence over skill and precision.

But witness the number of fines levied by the NFL for acts deemed too violent. The NFL started out protecting the quarterbacks a few decades ago. Now it protects everyone.

The NFL's talent level is at low tide. There aren't more than a handful of top-shelf quarterbacks. The NFL's violent nature is the most entertaining thing about it right now. Well, that and Eric Dickerson's mush-mouthed sideline reporting on Monday Night Football. Dickerson is so bad that he's captivating. With that 'do and glasses, he brings to mind a totally incoherent version of Malcolm X.

Pathetically, some players seem to be sucking up to the NFL's new concept of football. The Browns caterwauled like children with full diapers in the aftermath of Ward's block. I have little doubt that Cleveland's whining influenced the fine on Ward. Ward hit Rod Woodson a heavy lick when the Steelers played Baltimore two weeks ago. Ward says his block on Woodson was harder than his block on Little. But the Ravens didn't weep like women, so the NFL didn't discipline Ward.

Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning vigorously complained to a referee after getting busted in the mouth by Miami defensive end Lorenzo Bommell last Sunday. Manning looked like he was going to cry. Hey, kid, guess what? Getting busted in the mouth is part of your job description. The NFL fined Bommell $15,500 for his hit on Manning, and Manning's quivering lip almost certainly had something to do with that. Well, that and his broken jaw.

The NFL is undoubtedly the most successful, well-run sports league in the world. But there's such a thing as being too hands-on, and there's such a thing as being too arrogant in your success. The game's the thing, not Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's concept of what the game should be.

Fortunately, the Steelers don't seem to be buying into the NFL's vision of more genteel football. Ward said he has no regrets over what happened at Cleveland when he spoke Thursday with Jack Ham and me on the radio. "The fine's a tax write-off," Ward added, laughing.

If the Steelers really want to get under Tagliabue's skin, they should wear their socks at illegal lengths and sport bandannas under their helmets. I wonder if uniform-code violations are considered better or worse than taunting an unconscious opponent?

I always laugh when I hear about a player being fined for a helmet-on-helmet hit. Most of them are unintentional and unavoidable. Helmets protect you. Ergo, what's the big deal about a helmet-on-helmet hit? It's the helmet-on-groin hits the NFL should be concerned about.

The NFL's official dictum is that they are trying to protect players who are in a vulnerable position. OK, but aren't you in a vulnerable position the moment you step on the field? This may sound sadistic, but the constant possibility of serious injury is part of what makes pro football so enthralling. I imagine the risk is part of what makes football such a rush to play, too.

I am not totally heartless in these matters. I am vociferously against cut blocking. A cut block is a premeditated attempt to injure an opponent, and it's very tough to avoid. I also think that New Orleans offensive lineman Kyle Turley should cut down his dosage a little. Safety first.

Hopefully, the fine on Ward won't cause the Steelers to walk on eggshells when they play host to Jacksonville tomorrow. If Ward wants to knock out anybody, maybe he should go after Jaguars Coach Tom Coughlin. Coughlin's own players would probably taunt him, and they would probably pitch in to pay Ward's fine, too.

Mark Madden's talk show can be heard from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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