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Thomas Davis’ hit on Davante Adams proves NFL still hasn’t gotten serious on player safety

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We’re long past due needing stricter enforcement and more severe consequences for avoidable dangerous hits.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers
This is the second time this season an opponent has knocked Davante Adams out of a game with a dirty headshot.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Forget the cliche about dancing being a contact sport. Football isn’t a collision sport, it’s a car crash sport.

Players smash their bodies and hard as they can against another player in hopes of winning just a few inches.

Getting the violence out of the game means canceling the game.

There is no football, at least not tackle football, without violence. Rugby doesn’t have pads or weaponized helmets and that sport is still violent as hell. If the game involves running and tackling, there are going to be some dangerous plays, many of them unavoidable.

But we can’t accept the “it’s just football” excuse. Why? Because it’s “just another guy’s brain health.”

A hundred times a game, a defensive player has the opportunity to light up an opposing player. The rules prevent him doing that regularly, at least they do now. And players have started to learn.

The game has gotten safer. Defensive players have adjusted their aiming points, at least some of them have.

But there are still plays where a defensive player — or an offensive player in the case of a blindside block — has a chance to make a safe, legal block and they choose not to.

That, unequivocally, is what happened with Thomas Davis and Davante Adams on Sunday.

There is no parsing this, no “what about” to offer, no defense for the hit. He didn’t lead with his shoulder. Adams didn’t duck his head at the last minute or dive for the ball after Davis had taken off.

Davis had time to make a safe play and choose not to. Full stop.

No. 1 it’s an illegal block and an illegal block for a reason: the player being blocked has no idea it’s coming and the risk of injury becomes elevated.

The second problem is Davis launches his body, using his helmet as a weapon, right at the head of Adams.

No arms, no attempt at a block, no changing his aiming point.

Whether Davis intended to hit him in the head is irrelevant: he didn’t care if he did.

There’s no material difference in outcome.

And if we really want to get pedantic, at the last second Davis lowers his helmet and leads with the crown.

Strike three, you should be out.

Davis should have been ejected. He should be suspended. And so should all players who engage in this kind of reckless and fully avoidable behavior.

The “have you ever even played football” cliche is a bad enough strawman for Twitter, but when Adams himself -- you know, the NFL player actually involved in the play — goes on a Twitter rant, what kind of intellectually honest defense of the play can one muster?

By all accounts, Davis is a great guy who has overcome considerable adversity in his career. Tell Davante Adams’ grandkids that when he has early onset dementia, or CTE, or any number of other issues that a traumatic brain injury puts him at elevated risk of developing.

This is a brain injury. Maybe we have to start there.

Concussion is just a fancy word for brain injury.

Let’s start calling it that. As Jordy Nelson pointed out after the game, it’s the responsibility of the players to take care of one another. Some players do, too many still don’t. Maybe if we called it what it is, a traumatic brain injury, we would stop throwing out nonsense like “he got his bell rung.”

And the NFL has to start caring.

In fact, the NFLPA should already be calling for better safety rules, but they have their own inherent conflict of interest. They’ll defend Rob Gronkowski against a suspension because that’s what they’re supposed to do, shouldn’t the NFLPA also be fighting for the rights of Tre’Davious White to not have his had smashed by a 270-pound man child with body armor?

Ditto for Davante Adams, who has now been the victim of two cheap shot hits this season.

This was a 15-yard penalty in exchange for the Packers losing their best receiver for the game, potentially costing him next week’s game, and irrevocably altering his brain health. Even if Adams is lucky enough to avoid CTE, concussions are major trauma to the brain.

That has to matter.

There’s a fundamental issue of fairness here. The trade is 15 yards for your best player, plus his long-term health.

All of that is before we consider that Adams’ injury potentially swung the game as the Packers offense struggles to move the ball without him and it was his replacement who ultimately fumbled away the team’s chances at a win.

Green Bay winning or losing a game would be a big deal on its own, but the bigger problem at hand is the macro and systemic failures of the league and the union to take sufficient action to protect its players.

In college, Davis gets the hook with their targeting rule. NFL players, including the aforementioned Nelson, have been dubious of adopting such a policy in the league, but there’s even better reason to do it for the pros: these guys are all bigger, faster, stronger, and ultimately it’s their job.

The league has to do its best to make their work environment safe and we know for decades, the NFL has not only shirked this responsibility but actively subverted it.

Don’t make excuses for these hits.

They’re avoidable. It’s the best athletes in the world. They make split-second decisions literally every play. Players cut on a dime, make reads running 100 mph on routes to see coverages and adjust routes. Don’t tell me Thomas Davis couldn’t have adjusted his aiming point.

And that’s just half of what he did wrong. Even if he hits Adams squarely in the middle of his body, it would still be an illegal blindside block.

These types of clear and obvious safety violations, ones that compromise the health of the players and the integrity of the league, must be dealt with more severely or there’s no incentive for the players to change the way they play.

Until that happens, until players get ejected and regularly suspended for these types of dirty, avoidable hits, don’t let the NFL or the NFLPA tell you they take player safety seriously.

It’s clear they don’t. Just ask Davante Adams.