By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Football fans across the country were taken aback by a viciously violent hit that took place on the field Thursday night in Green Bay. As a result, officials on the field threw a penalty flag on the offender, Danny Trevathan, for knocking Davante Adams unconscious on the field.
But seeing that scene play out in real time, my first reaction as someone who watches too much NFL football was a bit troubling. I thought, “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a penalty called on a play like that.”
That’s not to say that it’s never been called, but I’ve made it a point over the years to point out the glaring holes in the league’s “dedication” to “player safety.” One such hole is that when a running back has his legs wrapped up as he fights for more yards, his upper body becomes fair game to however many head shots the defense wants to deliver.
Yes, the league has enforced rules that protect the heads of quarterbacks and defenseless receivers, but ball carriers have by and large been fair game when it comes to getting hit in the helmet.
Here’s a good example: one guy wraps up low, another guy flies right over the top. Free shot.
When you’re using your arms to protect the football, good luck protecting your head in this scenario:
It happens many times every game: One player holds up the ball carrier and stops his progress, one or more other players come and deliver punishing hits on the player who can’t defend himself:
Yes, those are running backs in those photos, but when a receiver catches a ball and establishes himself as a ball carrier, he’s treated the same as a running back by the rulebook. And yes, those hits generally aren’t as loud or ferocious as the one delivered by Trevathan on Thursday. But the actions are the same, and the intensity has certainly been matched countless times.
It’s generally treated as a lawless little moment in a football game. As long as the ball carrier pops to his feet and jogs either to his huddle or his sideline, it rarely ever warrants a mention.
The only difference with Davente Adams is that he was knocked out on the field.
Yes, he’s a receiver, but he had well established himself as a runner by the time Trevathan came flying into the picture. Adams caught the ball here:
He turned to look up the field:
He actually broke a tackle:
And then he was wrapped up here, his forward progress stopped, held up like a piece of ball-carrying meat for any defenders who wanted a free shot:
It was then that Trevathan came over and hit Adams so hard that you could actually see his helmet change shape, like a super-slow-motion video of a golf ball being struck:
Despite the obvious violence of the hit, there was no flag initially thrown on the play. Referee John Hussey didn’t throw his flag until 6.6 seconds after the hit. The flag was 100 percent thrown in reaction to the player being left lying motionless on the turf and not in reaction to the actual hit itself.
Here you can see Hussey well after the hit had been delivered:
Here’s Hussey upon realizing that a player was knocked out, causing the ref to jog toward the spot of the hit:
Here he is getting a better look at Adams’ status:
And here he is finally throwing the flag:
This flag was clearly thrown because of the result, not the action.
Hussey didn’t provide the clearest explanation for why he didn’t eject Trevathan from the game.
“From my perspective, I just didn’t see enough to have it rise to that level,” Hussey said. “That issue I would say is a judgment call. Was it egregious? Was it completely unnecessary? I didn’t have enough information from my perspective to make it that.”
After throwing the flag, Hussey made this announcement to the crowd: “Personal foul, defense, number 59. Hitting a runner in the helmet area. Half the distance to the goal. Automatic first down.”
“Hitting a runner in the helmet area” is not a penalty in the NFL rulebook. The only bit of protection Adams had in this moment was in the section on “players in a defenseless posture,” which includes “a runner already in the grasp of a tackler and whose forward progress has been stopped.”
Even then, Adams’ forward progress had only been stopped for less than a second, and he was still in a position to break free from the tackle and gain more yards. The play hadn’t been stopped. It is debatable whether Adams was technically considered “defenseless” at all, by the letter of the law.
It’s also against the rules to “initiate forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet,” but that’s rarely (if ever) called on a tackle on anyone except a quarterback.
Had Trevathan delivered that same exact hit but with a different result, it would have gone down as just another mostly forgotten play in the middle of an NFL game.
That’s really the part that should be the focus today. While dozens of columns have already been written and hours upon hours of talk radio and TV debate show segments have been devoted to calling for a suspension of Trevathan, the point is largely being missed.
Make no mistake: the hit was gross. Watching one man use his helmet as a weapon to damage someone else’s brain lost its luster quite a while ago.
Yet, that’s the type of hit that remains commonplace on NFL fields. It took a man getting knocked unconscious for most people to notice.
If you are indeed shocked and appalled to see such violence, then your attention should be focused on something much larger than one linebacker on the Chicago Bears.