BEREA — Scott Fujita wants players to be protected. He hates seeing his teammates, or opponents, stagger off the field with concussions caused by hits to the helmet.
But the outspoken Browns linebacker has significant problems with how league officials are handling the issue after a series of fierce collisions across the league Sunday. The NFL increased the level of fines and threatened ejections and suspensions beginning with games Sunday.
Steelers linebacker James Harrison was fined $75,000 after an illegal hit in which he launched himself into the head of Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.
“I’m absolutely saying they are being completely hypocritical. No doubt about it,” Fujita said. “I like the idea of trying to protect players. But it’s the same NFL that’s trying to make us play 18 games, and that’s not going to help the safety.”
Fujita is a member of the union’s executive committee and has been a harsh critic of the owners, who are set to lock out the players if an agreement isn’t reached by March. He thinks the latest safety push doesn’t mesh with the marketing of the game, especially when a picture of the hit on Massaquoi was available for purchase on nfl.com before being taken down Wednesday.
“They’re not consistent in their message right now,” Fujita said. “It’s just funny because they’re talking about banning these hits and suspending these players, but these are the same hits they are showing on NFL Network, promoting the game showing these hits.
“It’s a paradox and doesn’t make much sense to me.”
The hot topic in the NFL has sparked a scorching debate in the media, among fans and within locker rooms. The Browns are divided on the merits of stiffening the penalties for hits to the head.
Emotions are running especially high after Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs suffered concussions at the helmet and forearms of Harrison.
“Sometimes when a defender comes up and makes that type of hit, it ends up being an illegal hit and it was just the way he happened to hit the guy,” said tight end Benjamin Watson, who lobbied for Harrison to get the maximum penalty. “So I don’t think guys are actively headhunting.
“I don’t think you can totally get rid of those hits without totally changing the game of football.”
Cribbs and Massaquoi didn’t practice, and their availability for Sunday in New Orleans is uncertain. Mangini hoped to know more today, with a firmer idea Friday.
“You go through and you have to be symptom-free, then you take a baseline test, then you get evaluated by our doctors, then you get evaluated by independent doctors,” Mangini said. “Once all of those things are cleared, then you are cleared to reparticipate with the team.”
Mangini expects to notice immediately a sharper focus from the league and game officials on the most dangerous hits.
“When something is a point of emphasis, then it changes,” he said. “I’m sure you’ll see quite a few more calls and a heightened awareness of trying to improve that situation.”
Cribbs was knocked out by a direct hit to the head, but it was ruled legal because it was a running play. Despite the drama and the trauma, a string of Tweets expressed his support for Harrison. Harrison was excused from practice Wednesday and said he’s considering retirement because that’s the only way he knows how to play.
“I have no bad will towards LB James Harrison,” Cribbs wrote. “That’s what he’s suppose to do knock people out, it’s what makes him one of the best.
“He is still my boy ... It is unfortunate, but our sport is brutal” Tight end Evan Moore disagrees with the notion that hits to the head are innate to football. He acknowledged that a concussion he suffered earlier in the year increased his sensitivity.
“Launching into someone’s head doesn’t make you a tough player,” he said. “We got a lot of guys in this locker room, if they want to launch into someone and use their explosiveness and their power, they can knock somebody out, too. There are plenty of tough players who play within the rules.
“If somehow you get a way to take the game away from those guys as well as game checks, maybe that might help a little bit more.”
Moore wants defenders to follow the textbooks in making a tackle rather than go for the kill shot. Mangini teaches the fundamentals in a drill at the start of every practice.
“There’s so much speed and power in this league now that guys don’t need to worry about wrapping up, because if they launch themselves into someone they know that that guy’s going down,” Moore said. “I think the NFL is trying to get guys to kinda change their habits. I don’t think players are trying to hurt people or anything like that. I think they just made bad habits of hitting guys in a way that’s dangerous to both themselves and the player getting hit.”
Fujita has a problem with the midseason adjustment and said it was media-driven. He believes an offseason is necessary to change technique.
“Guys have to be coached differently because we’ve been coached a certain way our whole lives,” he said. “I think people out there would be shocked at the things players hear in their meetings with their coaches and the things they are supposed to do, the way they are taught to hit people. That’s the reality of this game.
“Do we like seeing guys getting knocked out? Absolutely not. It’s part of the game, unfortunately, and it needs to be addressed — at length — in the offseason.”
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