Osi Umenyiora: NFL players against head injury rules are 'stupid'
Former Giant Osi Umenyiora thinks people who have a problem with the NFL fining and suspending head-hunting players need to have their own heads examined.
"For them to come out and speak the way they're speaking is just the dumbest thing I've ever heard," he told the Daily News Thursday. "They're out of their minds."
Umenyiora made waves with a tweet earlier this week seemingly directed at Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell, who popped off against the NFL's attempts to make the game safer. Mitchell called the league's efforts to curb the head shots everybody knows can lead to brain injuries a step toward flag football rules.
"Hand us all some flags and we'll go out there and try to grab the flags off," Mitchell said in the aftermath of Monday night's violent Steelers-Bengals clash that produced more than 200 yards in penalties and two players stretchered off the field.
"This is not damn football," Mitchell said. "When I was six years old, watching Charles Woodson, Rod Woodson, Sean Taylor, the hitters, Jack Tatum. That's football. This ain't football."
The hard-hitting Tatum was known as "The Assassin" when he played in the 1970s. He also played with so little respect for opponents that Tatum is best known for paralyzing Darryl Stingley with one of those astonishing hits during a preseason game. Many players like Tatum and Ronnie Lott and Chuck Cecil made careers out of playing the game a certain way that the league has consciously tried to take out of the sport.
Removing those high hits from the game, and fining, penalizing and suspending those who level them, should never be confused with taking the soul out of football.
"There's so much beauty and so much aggression and physical nature of the game without hitting people in their head," Umenyiora said. "I don't understand it."
One thing Umenyiora and Mitchell agree on is that the NFL must work to be more consistent with how it punishes players. Steelers receiver Juju Smith-Schuster was suspended for his high hit and taunting of an injured Vontaze Burfict. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was also suspended one game for his late hit last week. But Bengals safety George Iloka, who tried to take off Antonio Brown's head, had his one-game ban reduced to just a fine.
Yes, there are inconsistencies and holes in the NFL's enforcement of these rules. But Umenyiora said the last people who should have a problem with the league trying to make the game safer are the actual players, because they're the ones who assume all the risk. Players, he said, should be the ones championing these reforms the loudest.
"It's not that I don't think they realize the dangers of the game. I think we're all very well aware of the dangers of the game. There's just this whole aura of the game is macho and all these types of things that people don't care what the consequences are going to be a little later on," Umenyiora said.
"I understand that, from the fans' perspective. For people watching, I think human beings have a propensity to like violence. You want the collisions, you want all those things. But from the players' standpoint, I just don't understand what they're doing, what they're talking about, because the evidence is there,” he added. “You know what's going to happen with repetitive head trauma. You know what's going to happen. I don't think there's any way it can be eliminated. I don't think the violence of the game is ever going to be eliminated, but there's certain things that are just common sense.
"You're not supposed to hit anybody in the head. Nobody signed up for that. That's not what the league is about, that's not what the NFL has ever been about. So this whole 'trying to take away my football,' it's nonsensical. From the players' standpoint, they've seen what has happened, seen all the things that have happened to former players. People are dying. People are dying in very, very bad ways because of this head trauma. I don't understand it."
Umenyiora, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants, has seen the evidence, and when studies show 110 of 111 brains of dead NFL players were bruised with CTE, he thinks the days of wondering if football could be hazardous to your health are over. There should be no doubt, he said.
"Now I talk to some of my former teammates, guys in their 30s, and I talk to them and I can tell there's something starting to go wrong," he said. "I can hear the way they talk; their speech is starting to … it's the strangest thing to see."
So when Umenyiora hears players complaining about football going soft, he can't believe his ears.
"My comment wasn't necessarily even about Mike Mitchell. I hear all these guys saying 'they're trying to make this flag football,' and in my head, I'm looking at them saying are you out of your mind? What are you talking about?"
Umenyiora compared the nearly 50 rule changes the NFL has put in place over the last few years to decrease injuries to auto racers being asked to wear seat belts. He said there will still be crashes and collisions, but if you're wearing a seat belt, "you aren't going to die."
"They're just trying to reduce the long-term effects of what we know that are happening to people," Umenyiora said. "For people to be against that in any form or fashion, the players especially, is just stupid."