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O’Neil: Two different plays involving Seahawks shows NFL only appears to care about player safety

Seahawks RB Chris Carson suffered a knee injury in Sunday's win over Dallas. (Getty)

The NFL cares very much about appearing to care about the health and safety of its players.

This should not be confused with the NFL actually caring about the health and safety of its players, though.

Carroll: Seahawks’ injuries, including Adams and Carson, are minor

The league may care enough about player health to try and curb both the frequency and severity of hits to the head, but it doesn’t care enough to dial back the number of Thursday night games. Every week, two NFL teams play two games in the span of five days.

The NFL cares enough about the health of its players that it will eject Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs from a game for making a hit that was both brutal and against the rules but that no one thought was malicious. It doesn’t care enough about the health of its players that it’s preparing to do anything more than fine Cowboys defensive lineman Trysten Hill for holding onto the leg of Seattle running back Chris Carson and twisting it as he rolled over.

“I was really (ticked) about that one,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Monday morning during his weekly radio show on 710 ESPN Seattle. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with that, but I was (ticked) because that guy hurt him unfortunately.”

He sure did. Carson left the game, did not return and has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 sprain, and apparently all it’s going to cost Hill is some money. Ian Rapoport – one of the league’s more reliable conduits for officially unofficial league news – reported that Hill would probably be fined but not suspended. Rapoport did not include video of the play in question so I’ll do that here:

What an absolute sham. The NFL is kicking players out of games for hits to the helmet of a defenseless player. A defensive player is penalized for so much as a slapping the helmet of an opposing quarterback. But if you’re a 320-pound defensive lineman and you decide that you want to keep hold of an opponent’s leg and roll all the way over without letting go you can just pay your penalty and move along.

I’m reluctant to describe any play as dirty because I think that it’s tough to make those kind of moral declarations in a sport as violent as tackle football. We generally think it’s OK for a defensive player to try and hit an opponent as hard as possible not only to stop the player from accomplishing a given task but to make that opponent less willing to continue giving his full effort going forward.

This sport is so brutal that players will try and explain that there’s a difference between wanting to hurt an opponent and wanting to injure them, and that difference will actually make sense in their world.

It’s the reaction of both former and current NFL players. Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright called it “dirty dumb malicious” on his Twitter account. Former Washington tight end Cam Cleeland of <strike>Aberdeen</strike> Sedro-Woolley, an eight-year NFL vet, said it was an “utter scumbag move.” Marcus Spears – now at ESPN – called it a “codebreaker.” Former offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz said there’s going to be some get-back.

So not only was this an obviously dangerous play that resulted in an injury, but a pretty broad cross-section of players agree that crossed a line from tough football to malicious intent. This makes it different from so many of the plays that the NFL fines on a weekly basis when one player hits another in the helmet.

Take the play that resulted in Diggs’ ejection after his collision with Pats receiver N’Keal Harry in Week 2. Diggs was rushing forward to defend a pass up the seam. He arrived just after the ball and ducked his head as he collided with Harry. It was an unfortunate play, one that was illegal and warranted an ejection according to the rules, but I don’t think anyone believes it was malicious.

Is that play worse than what Hill did? Apparently the NFL thinks so. It merited a harsher punishment, and that brings me back to the first point. The NFL cares about appearing to care about the safety of its players above all else. More specifically, they care about head injuries and concussions so they’ve strengthened the rules and ramped up the enforcement with the aim of making the game safer. At least that’s how the NFL describes it. It’s also making the league less liable, though. Minimizing the risk of future litigation over head injuries.

What Hill did isn’t any less dangerous than a concussive hit, and the maliciousness of his intent was much clearer. So why isn’t Hill’s punishment stiffer? If the NFL truly cared about protecting the health of its players it would be.

Follow Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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