LEWISTON, Idaho – Blame Paul Tagliabue and Roger Goodell.
Want to know why Fresno State receiver Isaiah Burse and so many football players are suddenly being penalized, fined and ejected for doing nothing wrong?
It's because Tagliabue, the former NFL Commissioner, either buried his head in the sand over the dangers of concussions or intentionally buried the scientific evidence. (A new book, "League of Denial," authored by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, makes a compelling case for the latter.) And because of that, Goodell, the current NFL boss, has overreacted to the point where the game is barely recognizable.
What does this have to do with Burse, and his ejection last week at Hawaii?
Simple. It's the trickle-down effect from the NFL to college to high schools to pee-wee leagues.
The hit Burse delivered on a supposedly defenseless Hawaii player wasn't that jarring. It wasn't egregiously violent. It was an innocuous hit, one of dozens that occur during the course of a game.
Burse was downfield blocking during a run. He came at the Hawaii player at an angle, but it certainly wasn't a blindside. Nor did it occur out of bounds.
You could tell the Hawaii player saw it coming because he flinched and ducked his head. So even though Burse led with his shoulder pads, his helmet and pads ended up making simultaneous contact.
Is it Burse's fault the Hawaii guy ducked? No, but the Bulldogs receiver paid the price by having to sit out the rest of the game. (If that hit had occurred in the second half, Burse would've been suspended for the first half today against Idaho, too.)
Look, I'm not saying anything and everything should be legal. Blatant cases of spearing and launching shouldn't be allowed. If the same player does it more than once, an ejection and suspension are warranted.
But there was nothing flagrant about Burse's hit — or many others I've seen draw yellow hankies this month in both the NFL and college.
In civil court, it typically takes a jury weeks to determine whether there was malice involved. Yet football referees get a split second to decide whether a hit was flagrant. How does that make sense?
I realize there's an instant replay component to all of this, which Friday became "automatic." But, jeez, seeing Marteze Waller get a yard deep in the end zone and have the ball spotted on the 1-yard line (after a booth review, no less) doesn't engender a lot of confidence in the system.
Even though we've seen some pretty questionable officiating during Bulldogs games, I'm not blaming the guys in stripes. Their job is difficult enough without being asked to interpret someone's intent.
No, it goes back to this whole ridiculous notion that we're somehow going to legislate violence out of football.
I played two years in high school, which hardly makes me an expert. But it took only one pitt drill for my 15-year-old brain to realize this was a rough sport. And not for everyone.
Burse is listed at 6 feet and 187 pounds — scrawny by football standards. So if any Hawaii players took offense to the hit, they have (or should have) the opportunity to hit him back during a punt return or after he catches a pass.
You give hits, and you get hit. That's football. Or at least how it used to be.
Goodell can say all he wants about player safety, and there might be a smidgen of truth in that. But mostly, he is worried about protecting the owners' wallets from lawsuits. Why else would he propose an 18-game regular season?
NFL players are disposable. The vast majority get used up after a season or two and are discarded when they're no longer useful. While the owners keep printing money.
Football players in the NFL and FBS are the modern equivalent of Roman gladiators. We might be a tad bit more civilized nowadays — no one fights to the death or gets torn to shreds by lions — but not all that much.
Unlike the gladiator arena, no one is forced to play football. It's an individual choice.
Certainly it's sad when guys like Junior Seau and Dave Duerson commit suicide because of brain trauma, shooting themselves in the chest so their brains can be studied by scientists. And it makes me uncomfortable hearing Bernie Kosar slur his words and reading about his assorted troubles.
But I have yet to hear a retired NFL player, be it Ronnie Lott, Lorenzo Neal or Bill Romanowski, regret their decision to play. Even knowing what they know now.
If the game can be made safer through advances in equipment, I'm all for it. Just don't fundamentally change the sport because the truth's out of the bag that repeated concussions aren't good for your brain.
Unfortunately, we're already pretty far down that path. Go much further, and football won't be football anymore. It'll be something else.
The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, email@example.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.