Updated: August 22, 2013 10:22AM
A number of questions went through my mind after the Bears’ Jon Bostic separated the Chargers’ Mike Willie from his senses, his dignity and the football last week.
The first one was: Is there a doctor in the house?
The others: How does one human being apply that much force in such tight quarters? How does the other human being get up after being hit like that? And has Dick Butkus discovered the Fountain of Youth?
The question that never crossed my mind: How much will the NFL fine Bostic for that hit?
The possibility of the league meting out punishment wasn’t discussed much in the media in the days after the game. That’s because it hardly occurred to anyone that there might be a fine involved. ESPN’s game announcers never mentioned the possibility of a fine after the play unfolded. The game officials didn’t throw a flag. It took a Wednesday tweet from fellow Bears linebacker and fledgling reporter Lance Briggs to break the news that the league was taking $21,000 out of Bostic’s pocket.
“Shaking my head moment,’’ Briggs wrote. “Nfl fines jon bostic 21k for his clean hit against the chargers.’’
Oh, and one more question: A fine for what?
Everyone should be concerned about the dangers of head injuries. As more and more research is being done, the lasting effects of multiple concussions are becoming more and more frightening. The NFL should be proactive in stopping defenders from leading with their heads, especially with willful intent.
But if you’re going to stop hits like Bostic’s, you’re stopping football. It was a hard tackle, but it looked as clean as a second-grader’s rap sheet. It looked very much like a football play. Willie caught a short pass from Charlie Whitehurst on a slant route. That took him toward the middle of the field and in the vicinity of Bostic, who had read the play perfectly. On the replay, it looks as if Bostic used his shoulder pads and perhaps his helmet to hit Willie high, but in the chest or the shoulders, not the head.
But that doesn’t matter, according to the league’s rules, which have gone too far in the direction of pacifism and please-don’t-sue-us legalese.
Here’s the rule the NFL is applying to Bostic’s hit:
“Prohibited contact against a player who is in a defenseless posture is:
“(2) Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/‘hairline’ parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player’s body.
“Note: The provisions of (2) do not prohibit incidental contact by the mask or helmet in the course of a conventional tackle on an opponent.’’
ESPN color analyst Trent Dilfer referred to Bostic’s hit on the air as a “form tackle.’’ The Bears rookie was running full speed at Willie, a moving target. I’m not sure what the NFL wants a defender to do in these situations. Aim for the knees? Turn the other cheek? Take up scrapbooking?
Before the fine was announced, the NFL had video of the Bostic-Willie collision on its website and referred to the hit in a caption and a headline as “spectacular.’’ When the punishment came down, someone removed the word “spectacular’’ from the site. It had nothing to do with hypocrisy. Hypocrisy would suggest the NFL had a clue in the matter. That the league celebrated the Bostic play tells me that, just like the rest of us, it has no idea what an illegal hit is. By any definition, it was a football hit, a combination of raw power and excellent technique. Spectacular, indeed.
I see a league that knows a raft of concussion-related lawsuits is heading its way. I see a league worried that parents won’t allow their children to play the sport as long as head injuries are a problem. I see a league overreacting.
The NFL charged Bostic with playing football on Wednesday. He’ll get a chance to appeal, but the damage is done. More confusion has seeped into the game.
“I thought it was a clean hit. His head was up, and he hit with the shoulder from my vantage point on the field,’’ coach Marc Trestman said. “And upstairs looking at it on the tape, I thought it was a clean hit.”
It’s possible for a clean hit and a collision to be the same thing. The NFL obviously disagrees. But be warned, national pastime: When you legislate collisions out of the game, you’re legislating football out of the game. And then what’s the point?