Tonight’s already tense Steelers-Bengals Wild Card game turned very ugly after Ryan Shazier knocked out Giovani Bernard and forced a fumble with a devastating hit delivered to Bernard’s skull. Brain damage apologists at CBS defended the play as legal and simply called the play “unfortunate,” because Bernard’s status in the play declared him “not defenseless.”
The above video is a slow-mo angle of what Bernard’s brain was subjected to. Again, according to the new NFL targeting rules, this hit is completely legal. Or is it!?
ARTICLE 8. INITIATING CONTACT WITH THE CROWN OF THE HELMET. It is a foul if a runner or tackler initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players are clearly outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or tackler against an opponent shall not be a foul.
This is a rule that has existed in some form for decades in the NFL. It is rarely applied, because the line between initiating contact and incidental contact is not a line at all at 2016 NFL speeds. Those highlighting Bernard’s no longer qualifying as “defenseless” as unfair are right; those who would say Shazier can’t be expected to shift space-time faster than an offensive player wouldn’t be wrong either, probably. The NFL as you know it cannot be made safer.
No, what we really want to recognize is that watching Giovani Bernard’s brain get scrambled was portrayed by CBS as being less viewer-averse than showing pictures of a potential brawl between angry oppposing players; Jim Nantz called that “something no one wanted to see.”