In the wake of the NFL's crackdown on illegal hits, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith issued the following statement Saturday:
"The issue of player safety is bigger than just hits on Sunday. Players understand the difference between aggressive, split-second actions and dangerous play. In addition to this sudden new emphasis on player safety, players call on the NFL to fulfill its obligation to healthcare in a lockout, end nasty litigation against nearly 300 players' workers compensation cases and stop saying 'no' to the disability benefits of NFL legends.
"While there are a range of punishments available as part of the on-field discipline system, the NFLPA will ensure the NFL strictly adhere to the existing rules and disciplinary process. We will also enforce the return-to-play guidelines and safety protocols and practices that occur out of the public eye. Our mission is to remain aggressive on player safety both on and off the field."
The league swiftly addressed illegal hits following three tackles in last week's games with large fines. The NFL warned players that starting this weekend, even first-time offenders will be subject to suspensions for delivering flagrant hits to the head and neck area of defenseless opponents.
Players say they understand the need for safety, but some suggested this escalation in punishment might ultimately have a detrimental effect on a game that is, after all, predicated on collisions.
Cornelius Bennett, a five-time Pro Bowl linebacker who played from 1987 to 2000 with the Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons and Indianapolis Colts, addressed the issue of player safety with the following statement Saturday.
"This is a former as well as a current player issue. Of course this issue is bigger than just Sunday hits and fines. The overall health, safety and retirement issue is one that every former player should be supporting and challenging the NFL on today. You can slap yourself on the back about fines while you continue to ignore disability claims and sue players over workers compensation."
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.