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The NFL is becoming safer, not softer

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Mike Pereira

Mike Pereira was the NFL's Vice President of Officiating from 2004-09, having spent the five seasons previous to that as the league's Director of Officiating. He also served as an NFL game official when he acted as a side judge for two seasons (1997-98). Follow him on Twitter.

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The culture has just changed in the NFL and to hell with those that think that the game is going soft.

The NFL fined three players a total of $175,000 for three hits. Dunta Robinson and Brandon Meriweather were fined $50,000 each and it was their first offense. James “I try to hurt people” Harrison got hit for $75,000 for his hit on Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaqoui and also for the fact that he is a repeat offender.

Harrison lifted up Vince Young and dumped him on his head in Week 2, which I assume was an attempt to hurt him, not injure him.

Good for Roger Goodell and Ray Anderson. They didn’t cave to the Matt Millens and Trent Dilfers of the world who said that these hits are part of the game. By the way, this is the same Matt Millen who had a seat on the NFL’s Competition Committee when a lot of these player safety rules were passed.

A $50,000 fine for a first offense is unprecedented. And Harrison deserves every penny of his fine.

There were no suspensions only because players had not been notified that the NFL would suspend players for their first offense.

I personally think that the Meriweather hit was the only one worthy of an immediate suspension. But all players are now on notice by virtue of these fines. They also will receive a video later this week narrated by Anderson, the executive vice president of football operations, highlighting these specific hits and others and alerting them to possible suspensions.

No changes in the rules were made. The existing rules cover these types of hits. The message that the NFL sent out Tuesday is that there is a higher level of accountability when it comes to discipline.

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The next step to be taken this week will be to remind the officials that the penalty for unnecessary roughness includes a statement that says, “The player may be disqualified if the action is judged by the official(s) to be flagrant.”

This is where it gets a little tricky. Officials have always been a little hesitant to eject a player unless it is for fighting or for contact with an official. In real time, it is difficult to tell if contact is to the head or neck area of the opponent.

Officials are told to err on the side of safety if there is any question. An error resulting in a 15-yard penalty is one thing. An error resulting in an ejection is another.

This offseason, I would ask the NFL to consider letting the referee review all ejections in Instant Replay, to make sure that the right player is ejected and that the contact is, in fact, to the head or neck area of the player that is hit. If not, the flag would remain but the ejection would be rescinded. It will make the officials more comfortable in making this decision.

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It can’t stop here. The NFL needs to look at all hits where a player leads with his helmet. It needs to go beyond just the defenseless players. You want to argue with me? Well, before you do, go talk to the parents of Rutgers player Eric LeGrand, whose son is lying in a hospital, paralyzed from the neck down after attempting to make a tackle.

Go to the coach of a high school junior varsity team in Sacramento, Calif., who had to cancel a game because he didn’t have enough players come out for his team.

For the good of the game, not just the NFL, let’s do everything we can to make the game safer.

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