Steelers players rip new rule

Updated: May 25, 2011, 5:11 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The NFL's new proposal to punish teams for their players' multiple flagrant hits that result in fines has been nicknamed by some in the league as the "Steelers rule." Not surprisingly, some of the hardest hitters on Pittsburgh's defense took to social media to blast the league's new initiative.

The punishment will be financial, although league vice president Adolpho Birch said Tuesday he didn't rule out commissioner Roger Goodell applying further sanctions, such as stripping clubs of draft choices. Also Tuesday, owners approved rules amendments for player safety, targeting launching and further defining what qualifies as a defenseless player.

In his news conference Wednesday to wrap up the spring owners meetings in Indianapolis, Goodell said the "objective is to have a club accountability" in making the game safer. He said he hasn't contemplated yet whether he would take draft picks away from teams, but he did say the NFL would summon teams to the league offices in New York to discuss problems, if needed.

"We're all responsible for making this game as safe as possible," he said.

Birch would not identify which 2010 teams would have been subject to fines had the policy been in place then, but did say at least three teams might have been punished. One player, Pittsburgh All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, was fined $100,000 for flagrant hits last season.

"We'll check the number of fines and the level of fines going out for infractions that relate to various player safety violations," Birch said. "Particularly head and helmet issues."

Harrison expressed his displeasure on his Twitter account Tuesday.

"I'm absolutely sure now after this last rule change that the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots," Harrison said.

Teammate LaMarr Woodley also spoke out through his Twitter account.

"Thoughts on "the steelers rule"??? lol im sorry that im not sorry we hit 2 hard," he wrote.

Woodley later expounded on his tweet in a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview.

"Man, they're getting ridiculous," Woodley said. "Football is turning soft now. Too many fines. Too many penalties protecting the quarterback every single play. Defensive guys can't be defensive guys no more."

Steelers president Art Rooney II told USA Today on Tuesday that he's reserving judgment for now.

Woodley Thoughts on "the steelers rule"??? lol im sorry that im not sorry we hit 2 hard.

-- Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley on his Twitter account

"I'm not going to say I'm opposed to it. I would hope that it's something that is used judiciously, that is sort of reserved for repeated type of conduct," Rooney said. "I think if it's handled that way, it'll probably be effective. It's still under discussion."

The NFL began a crackdown on illegal hits, particularly those to defenseless players, last October. It threatened suspensions, but no players had to sit out games. However, Ray Anderson, the league's chief disciplinarian, has said suspensions will be considered for egregious hits this season.

The 32 owners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve rules amendments for player safety, including a measure aimed at keeping a player from launching himself into a defenseless opponent. A 15-yard penalty will result for anyone who leaves both feet before contact to spring forward and upward into an opponent and delivers a blow to the helmet with any part of his helmet.

Such tackles will also be subject to fines.

The definition of a defenseless receiver already has been extended. Now, a receiver who has not had time to protect himself or has not clearly become a runner even if both feet are on the ground is considered defenseless.

Harrison I'm absolutely sure now after this last rule change that the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots.

-- Steelers LB James Harrison on his Twitter account

Defenseless players cannot be hit in the head or neck area with the helmet, face mask, forearm or shoulder. The definition of such players now includes those throwing a pass; attempting or completing a catch without having time to ward off or avoid contact; a runner whose forward progress has been stopped by a tackler; kickoff or punt returners while the ball is in the air; kickers or punters during a kick or a return; a quarterback during a change of possession; a player who receives a blindside block from a blocker moving toward his own end zone.

Penalized players are subject to being ejected for flagrant fouls.

Also, hits to the head of a passer that are not considered "forcible" blows will not be penalized.

"We are not saying to take the physicality out of the game in any way, shape or form," competition committee co-chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, said. "There are still lots of hits that are legal."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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