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.

Prominent cases of NFL players with CTE
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Prominent cases of NFL players with CTE
San Diego Chargers Junior Seau during a game against the New York Jets at the Qualcomm Stadium Sunday November 3, 2002, in San Diego, CA. (Photo by Matt A. Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Frank Gifford provides the classic throwing motion in his University of Southern California Trojans uniform. Following his college days, Gifford went on to star for the NFL's New York Giants, then worked as a broadcaster for CBS and ABC's Monday Night Football. (University of Southern California/Collegiate Images via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND - OCTOBER 9: Quarterback Ken Stabler #12 of the Oakland Raiders on the ground after taking a hit during a game against the Cleveland Browns at Municipal Stadium on October 9, 1977 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Raiders defeated the Browns 26-10. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 14: Defensive back Tyler Sash #39 of the New York Giants on the sidelines against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at Candlestick Park on October 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers 26-3. Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Inside linebacker Jovan Belcher #59 of the Kansas City Chiefs watches from the sidelines during his final game against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 13: Offensive lineman Terry Long #74 of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks with offensive line coach Hal Hunter (R) on the sideline during a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Three Rivers Stadium on September 13, 1987 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Mike Webster #52 of Pittsburgh Steelers looks on during a game circa 1987 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Webster played for the Steelers from 1974-88. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Sporting News via Getty Images)
Quarterback Earl Morrall #15 of the Miami Dolphins looks on from the sidelines against the New York Jets during an NFL football game at The Orange Bowl November 19, 1972 in Miami, Florida. Morrall played for the Dolphins from 1972-76. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Defensive tackle Shane Dronett #75 of the Atlanta Falcons in action during the game against the New York Jets at the Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Jets defeated the Falcons 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Todd Warshaw /Allsport
Dave Duerson #22 of the Chicago Bears looks on during a game in the 1985 season. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, D.C. - DECEMBER 31: Guard John Wilbur #60 of the Washington Redskins rests on the sideline against the Dallas Cowboys at RFK Stadium in the 1972 NFC Championship Game on December 31, 1972 in Washington, D.C. The Redskins defeated the Cowboys 26-3. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 10: Defensive back Andre Waters #20 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on from the sideline during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Veterans Stadium on December 10, 1989. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Cowboys 20-10. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 21: New York Jets players tackle New England Patriots player Mosi Tatupu during a game at The Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J. on Sept. 21, 1987. The game was the last game before a strike in the NFL. (Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH - AUGUST 31: Offensive lineman Justin Strzelczyk #73 of the Pittsburgh Steelers on the sideline during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Three Rivers Stadium on August 31, 1997 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
CIRCA 1968: Defensive Tackle Bubba Smith #78 of the Baltimore Colts is seen watching the action from the bench circa 1968 during an NFL football game. Smith played for the Colts from 1967-71. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 1: Running back Ollie Matson #33 of the Los Angeles Rams poses for a publicity photo during training camp at Chapman Colleg on August 1, 1961 in Orange, California. (Photo by Vic Stein /Getty Images)
FILE: Baltimore Colts HOFer John Mackey during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
BALTIMORE - OCTOBER 11: Chris Henry #15 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 11, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Bengals defeated the Ravens 17-14. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 15: John Grimsley #59 of the Houston Oilers lines up during a football game against the Chicago Bears on October 15, 1989 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Oilers won 33-28. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 24: Defensive end Pete Duranko of the Denver Broncos watches from the sideline against the San Diego Chargers at San Diego Stadium on September 24, 1972 in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Broncos 37-14. (Photo by James Flores/Getty Images)

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."

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