Opinion: NFL needs its Own Targeting Rule

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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)


What I learned in sports this week is that the NFL needs to make a radical change.

It'll be unpopular and disliked by many around the game, and this has nothing to do with protests or any shows of unity, nor will the name President Trump make a cameo in this column.

This change is 100 percent about an issue on the field.

Thursday night when Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan went in like a missile on Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, he should have been ejected from the game.

Trevathan went in high, went in late, and there's no doubt he used the crown of his helmet to knock the wide receiver out of the game.

Adams left on a stretcher.

Trevathan should have been ejected. Instead, he was only penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.

On Saturday, the NFL did suspend Trevathan for two games, but immediate ejection would have had greater impact.

In the offseason, the NFL's competition committee put teams on notice that certain illegal hits that were previously punishable by just 15 yards would be open to immediate ejection and suspension even under a first offense.

Trevathan's hit was a missed moment by the league to show its seriousness about this new rule on a national stage.

However, before I get on any soapbox railing against referee John Hussey for his failure in the moment, let me show grace and leniency that few do for officials.

"From my perspective, I just didn't see enough to rise to that level," Hussey told a pool reporter. "That issue I would have is a judgment call. Was it egregious, was it completely unnecessary? I didn't have enough information from my perspective to make that."

Being a football official is a thankless job for many reasons. Many of us, who complain about officials' performance, sit at home with the luxury of instant replay and DVR.

Let's make this simple on officials, the referees, and those who dole out suspensions: The NFL should adopt college football's targeting rule.

Targeting includes launching or leading with the helmet, shoulder, forearm, fist, hand or elbow with "forcible contact at the head or neck area."

See: Trevathan on Adams.

The punishment according to the NCAA: "If the foul occurs in the first half of a game, the player is ejected for the remainder of the game. If the foul occurs in the second half or overtime of a game, the player is ejected for the remainder of the game and the first half of the next contest."

Under the college "targeting" guidelines, Trevathan would have been ejected and suspended for the first half of the following week with no debate, no ruling by the league, no appeals, no fuss.

The targeting rule also would have given Hussey time to make a decision, with director of officiating Alberto Riveron making the ultimate call at the NFL's central command unit.

Players cannot be fined in college athletics because they aren't paid (feel free to insert Louisville/adidas joke here). NFL players are subject to fines ranging in the tens of thousands of dollars.

But how effective are fines? For some making the "play" at any cost is worth the payment.

The NFL and college football take pride in being distinct from one another. But what's the harm in using a rule if it's effective and makes sense?

By the NFL adopting the targeting rule, players would be immediately subject to the worst form of punishment: inability to play. Being forced to walk away from your team when the game is in the balance might be the hard lesson NFL players need to learn when going neck high.

Fines may sting a player, especially those on rookie salaries or at the league minimum, but others are willing to pay that price. A day or two later, the NFL can correct an on-field ruling, as in Trevathan's case, and suspend the offending player.

Yet athletes, sometimes, are like children. When you take away their play time, immediately linking offense to punishment is most effective.

Wes McElroy hosts a daily sports talk show weekdays from 6-9 a.m. on WRNL (910).

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October 1, 2017


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