Bears players say NFL 'ruining the integrity' of game with heavy fines, suspensions

Matt Trowbridge

The NFL announced Wednesday it would suspend even first-time offenders for “devastating hits” and “head shots.” Chicago Bears players said the league is going too far trying to protect players and is hurting the game.

“This is ruining the integrity,” cornerback Charles Tillman said. “It’s not even football anymore. We should just go out there and play two-hand touch if we can’t make contact.”

The NFL fined three players between $50,000 and $75,000 for making concussion-inducing hits Sunday. The Bears said two of the fined players did what they would have done.

“If I can’t get there to knock the ball down, I’m supposed to separate him from the ball,” Bears safety Chris Harris said. “That’s the way football has always been. That’s just the game.

The Bears pointed out that the NFL has always celebrated its biggest hits.

“We get jacked up for that,” Tillman said. “Y’all get jacked up for that. They replay it on the Jumbotron at every game when there is a big hit.”

The NFL says it is merely enforcing long existing rules on tacklers leading with their helmet. Coach Lovie Smith agrees. But his players say those rules can be unreasonable.

“Growing up, I was taught to put my facemask between your numbers,” Harris said. “I understand not leading with the head, but my eyes are on my head. I have to see what I’m hitting. Therefore, my head will probably be the first thing to make contact. That’s just common sense.

“I understand the whole safety issue, but this is not a contact sport. This is a collision sport. It’s a mini car wreck every time you hit somebody.”

Even quarterback Jay Cutler, who sat out two weeks ago with a concussion, said the NFL is being too hard on tacklers.

“They have to aim for a certain spot. That’s going to be tough duty,” Cutler said.

Defensive tackle Anthony Adams said players have to adapt.

“The league is changing and we’ve got to change with it,” Adams said.

Rashied Davis said replays have led to the crack down. “Everything looks worse in slow motion,” the backup wide receiver and special teams star said.

Davis agreed with Harris that sometimes defenders can’t avoid helmet-to-helmet contact.

“If I catch the ball and I notice a guy coming, I’m going to lower my shoulder,” Davis said. “When I lower my shoulder, my head is coming first. On some of those hits, what is the guy supposed to do?”

He certainly can’t mimic his ancestors.

“They had more illegal hits back then than they do now,” Davis said. “Guys were clothes lining people and doing all kinds of crazy things. Now you can’t clothesline a guy. You’d get fined 7 million bucks if you try to clothesline a guy or club a guy. Deacon Jones used to club guys across the head.”

The Bears began this season in training camp trying to tie themselves to that hard-hitting past.

“We’re talking about being the Monsters of the Midway,” Tillman said. “We need to stop calling ourselves that if we can’t hit nobody.”

Lovie Smith said his players protest too much. Smith agreed that “a lot of people come to the stadium to see big hits” but said “there is a right way to do it” and that the NFL has always punished the wrong way. His example of the right way was receiver Earl Bennett’s crunching highlight block during Devin Hester’s 89-yard punt return last week.

“You can be physical and aggressive and do it the legal way and everybody will be happy,” Smith said.

Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or