The game of football, at all levels, has worked extremely hard in the past few years to protect the players more than ever. As we learn more about concussions, CTE, and other long-term ill-effects that can come from playing the game that we all love to watch so much, everyone — from the NFL on down to pee-wee league organizers — has made player safety a central focus of the continuation of the game of football.

The most obvious and extreme example of this, though there are many, is the targeting penalty in college football.

We say we care about player safety. We make rules that show we care about player safety. We talk about helping minimize injuries and concussions as much as possible. But when push comes to shove, our actions and responses show very clearly that we don’t care about player safety. Nothing exemplifies this more than LSU’s Josh Boutte blindsiding Wisconsin’s D’Cota Dixon at the end of their game Saturday and the response to the hit.

First of all, let’s all watch the play again, brutal as it was. Every single person who saw this hit live knew just how dirty and dangerous it was. Everyone can tell that it’s a player physically lashing out.

This is a play that deserves a suspension. It deserves to cost Josh Boutte multiple games. Most importantly, though, it deserves to be recognized as what it was. This was a non-football play that absolutely must be eliminated from the game. Dirty shots won’t stop until players know they will get called out — and punished severely — for taking dirty shots.

Which is why Les Miles’ comments about the play after the game are reprehensible. He didn’t hold Boutte accountable for his actions. He didn’t say what a terrible play it was. He didn’t even say that he can’t really comment until he knows what happened. What he did was give Boutte an out.

“I’m going to have to see the film,” said Miles, “but he’s an offensive lineman in protection and what happens downfield sometimes is you’re protecting beyond the play.”

He continued to give Boutte a clear excuse. “Again, I’ll have to check this, but it’s very logical that he did not even know the guy had gone down and was just running.”

This was right after the game. Miles didn’t have to make a statement. He could have just said that he has to look at it. Miles was trying to protect his player by giving an excuse, yet offering excuses for inexcusable actions does nothing but make the game more dangerous in the future. No one watching that play live could have thought the hit was anything other than a vicious assault. But by Miles giving voice to the claim that Boutte was trying to make a football play, people can now find that a reasonable explanation for what happened.

Let’s just be clear, to dissuade any further claims that Boutte was trying to make a tackle. This video, a replay from behind the play (apologies for the low quality), clearly shows Boutte seeing Dixon intercept the ball on the ground. There are also three LSU players within Boutte’s field of vision who are walking off. Boutte knows the play is over and has Dixon lined up from over 25 yards away just to lay out. There is no excuse for this, and Boutte was not just trying to make a tackle.

Miles backed up his weak response to the play by offering an even weaker one on Monday. He instituted a one-game suspension, which was enough to keep the SEC office happy and not have commissioner Greg Sankey extend it further. One game, though, is far too little a punishment for a hit that could have easily ended Dixon’s career.

I don’t want to spend too much space harping on just how dirty and dangerous the hit was, because it is apparent to all who see it how ridiculous it was. Boutte went high and straight for the head of an unsuspecting and defenseless player. That hit was closer to an act of criminal assault than it was to a football play.

Dixon will lose one game for this. The home opener, but an ultimately meaningless game against FCS Jacksonville State. He isn’t missing a conference game or a big opponent. Boutte’s entire punishment is sitting out a tune-up.


This is a travesty for the game of football. It shows we really don’t care about player safety. No one is calling out Les Miles for perpetuating the farcical prevarication that the hit was “done by accident.” No one is talking about how Boutte’s actions single-handedly made football a more dangerous game.

Unfortunately, the one-game suspension makes you wonder if this is all because Boutte had the incredible fortune of the play having no real consequences. Dixon was on the ground with the wind knocked out of him for a few seconds, but pretty much popped right up. The hit could have started an all-out brawl, but Wisconsin and LSU players both showed incredible restraint by not escalating the situation into something uglier. If Dixon had a concussion or was forced to miss significant time with an injury, you can bet that Boutte would be out for much longer.

This is the true reason why I say fans, coaches and executives don’t care about player safety. If we were truly serious about player safety, we wouldn’t only ask for stiff punishments when someone gets hurt. Player safety isn’t about reacting (or in some cases, overreacting) when someone gets hurt. Player safety is about showing that we are truly interested in removing dangerous — and certainly dirty — plays from the game.

Boutte’s joke of a suspension — instituted by his head coach, tacitly endorsed by his school, and explicitly approved of by his conference — does nothing to ensure that we make football safer. It just shows that claiming that dirty plays were an “accident” can buy sympathy and a meaningless punishment.

About Yesh Ginsburg

Yesh has been a fan and student of college football since before he can remember. He spent years mastering the intricacies of the BCS and now keeps an eye on the national picture as teams jockey for College Football Playoff positioning.