The league's focus to eliminate hits on defenseless players and quarterbacks has many pundits — current and former players included — clamoring over the notion that the sport has gotten soft.
It's true to a large extent, but the gripe with the officiating could be simmered with a dose of consistency. Vick, for instance, wouldn't be complaining about a fair shake from the refs if they maintained a state of uniformity with their calls.
Take Tom Brady's season as an example. Brady was the victim of a cheap shot to his knee against the Chargers, and he was hit hard up high twice against the Raiders, including one blatant whack to his helmet, and none of the plays have drawn flags. If the NFL wants to preach player safety, its officials should be properly equipped to make the necessary calls.
On the other hand, Patriots defensive end Andre Carter and linebacker Rob Ninkovich were each fined $15,000 for very questionable hits on quarterbacks in September. Neither player was particularly happy about the rulings because they noted that they were actually trying to hold up from levying a fine-worthy hit.
Because there has been so much room for interpretation and second-guessing, it's kept the topic at the forefront of the league's collective water-cooler talk. There are debatable hits in every single game, but the crime in all of this has been the degree of subjectivity from the officials. They don't know what to call, and they appear to be uncomfortable with throwing flags in certain situations. When this is over the matter of 15 free yards, it should come down to a cut-and-dry ruling.
The league has gotten soft with its coddling of quarterbacks, but player safety is no joke. Far too often, former players — whether they're Hall of Famers or career-long journeymen — walk around alumni functions with noticeable limps, and their quality of life diminished in their later years due to their career choice.
But "soft" is an opinion, and safety is a real-life issue. It shouldn't be a hard sell to push to keep these players upright and healthy, at least as far as dirty, unwarranted hits are concerned. It might take a little time, but eventually, players and fans will learn how to live with it, even if they don't like it. Just keep it consistent.