Monday, March 30, 2015

Never Again

On March 14th, a typical Saturday night at Vanderbilt University ended with a sobering and nauseating sight: swastikas spray-painted on the walls of a Jewish fraternity. 

The Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs condemned the act in a message to the student body. The Vanderbilt Police Department is investigating it as a hate crime. The executive director of Vanderbilt Hillel called what happened “inexcusable”.[1]

Earlier this week, a gunshot was fired into the West End Synagogue in Nashville. Police were “not aware of recent threats to harm the synagogue or its membership”.[2]

Unfortunately, events like these are nothing new.

In April 2013, three people, including a 14-year-old boy, were murdered in a shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas. The gunman reportedly shouted “Heil Hitler” during the attack.[3]

In April 2014, on the eve of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), a student at the University of Central Florida had swastikas carved into the wall of her apartment and her mezuzah broken in half. A $500 reward was offered for information about the crime, and the act was condemned by UCF administrators. No arrest was ever made.[4]

In July 2014, swastikas were spray painted on the mailboxes of the Jewish fraternity at The University of Oregon. The Eugene human rights commission “strongly condemned” the “hateful actions”.[5]

In October 2014, shortly after the end of the observance of Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday, swastikas were spray painted on the Jewish fraternity at Emory University. Emory University President, James Wagner, released a strong statement “denouncing the abhorrent act” and pledged Emory’s ongoing commitment to raising awareness and preventing all forms of violence and discrimination. The perpetrators were never identified.[6]

On February 10, 2015 a Jewish candidate for the UCLA Judicial Board was questioned not about her qualifications for the position (which were indisputable), but about whether her status as a Jewish student and subsequent involvement in Jewish organizations on campus made her biased. After a 40-minute debate, she was rejected for the position. However, the board’s academic advisor weighed in, and the board subsequently unanimously approved the student’s appointment. The students serving on the board apologized and the UCLA student union passed an anti-Semitism resolution. UCLA’s Chancellor, Gene Block, denounced the board’s action and called it a “teachable moment”. No other action was taken.[7]

There are many more examples than these.

Similar events have been reported at universities and in communities around the country.[8],[9] When did behavior like this become acceptable? When did we let our college campuses and communities become places where some individuals feel unwelcome, or worse, unsafe?

Perhaps these events wouldn’t be as worrisome if they weren’t occurring in the context of the growing tide of anti-Semitism in Europe and other parts of the world. In May 2014, four people were shot to death at the Jewish Museum of Brussels.[10] Pro-Palestinian rallies in Belgium and France this summer not only denounced Israel, but included signage and chants such as “Gas the Jews!” and “Death to the Jews!”.[11] In the wake of these, and many other events, immigration to Israel has reached a 10-year high with 26,500 people making aliyah in 2014. Seven thousand of them were from France alone.[12]

In July 2014, a German synagogue was torched with firebombs. German courts ruled it an “Act of Protest” motivated by a desire to “bring attention to the Gaza conflict”.[13] James Kirchick, a foreign correspondent with The New York Daily News, made the following comparison: “a group of skinheads torch a black church somewhere in the Deep South. Upon being apprehended by the police, they cite the injustices that Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has visited upon the white farmers of his country as justification for their arson. Mugabe is black, he rules on behalf of ‘the black race,’ and therefore black people everywhere must be made to feel responsible for his crimes.”[14]

Can you imagine the (justified) outrage?

Many defend anti-Semitic words and actions as free speech and worthwhile protest in the ongoing dialogue about Israel and the Middle East conflict. However, in many instances we see the line become blurred. Manuel Valls, the Socialist Prime Minister of France, says, “it is legitimate to criticize the policies of Israel. This criticism exists in Israel itself. But … [t]here is an incontestable link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.”[15]

Free speech is a fundamental tenet of our democracy and should be protected fiercely. However, we must be cautious in allowing the First Amendment to be used as a shield for bigotry and overtures of hate.

Earlier this month, members of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were videotaped on a bus singing undeniably racist songs. The University of Oklahoma’s actions were swift. The University’s President permanently ended the school’s affiliation with SAE and expelled the two students identified from the video.[16]  The public response to these actions was positive and echoed President Boren’s sentiments: we will not tolerate this type of behavior. Only now, as the dust has begun to settle, have questions about the legality of the University’s actions been raised.[17]

The student’s behavior was undoubtedly repugnant and indefensible. We should not allow such hatred and intolerance, particularly on our college campuses. Furthermore, our society must stand against such bigotry when it is directed at any group.

The truth is this: swastikas do not feel like a political statement or innocent prank to the Jewish college students that are the victims of these crimes.

Swastikas are a statement of violence and hate, which these students feel very personally. We forget that it has been barely seventy years since the Holocaust, and that many of them may have lost family in the genocide. In this context, the swastika is not a theoretical, ideological symbol; it is synonymous with genocide and extermination. This should be personal not just to the Jewish students, but to our communities as well.

We find ourselves at a critical juncture.

Will our universities and communities rise in defense of our Jewish friends, colleagues and neighbors and stand with them in defiance of these recurrent acts of anti-Semitism? Or, will the United States find itself following in the footsteps of Europe and allow anti-Semitism to continue to grow unabated?

I know where I will stand. Do you?

“Has the like of this happened in your days or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, and let your children tell theirs, and their children the next generation!”
1 Joel, 2-3
Displayed on the walls of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. 


Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Tradition of Excellence

I had always admired The Ohio State University Marching Band. As the daughter of an OSU alum, I grew up watching the band practice on Friday afternoons before games on Saturday, listening to CDs of the band in the car on the long drives from Atlanta to Columbus and religiously attending Skull Session before each home game.

In middle school I joined band and, naturally, chose the trumpet (although for the record, originally I wanted to play clarinet, but my orthodontist had other ideas). I went on to become a core member of my high school band program: as section leader and then drum major of the marching band, and member of the top symphonic band and district honor band.  When the time came to choose colleges, Ohio State was an easy choice. It offered me the opportunity to spread my wings and leave home for the first time and to attend a university with virtually every opportunity at my fingertips.

And there was the band.

Although I considered myself an above-average musician, the marching style of TBDBITL was 180-degrees opposite from my high school band and the learning curve was steep. Nevertheless, I packed up my things over a month before classes began and moved to Columbus, Ohio to try out for The Ohio State University Marching Band in August of 2003. That first year I made the band by the skin of my teeth and will never forget the feeling of hearing my name called as a member of T-row. The rest, you could say, is history.

I was a proud 4 year member of T-row and felt honored to serve as assistant squad leader my senior year of college. I have always been a vocal and proud TBDBITL alum, and the last few years of innovation by the band have done nothing more than strengthen my pride in the organization.

The news today saddens me.

This post is not meant to address each and every issue raised in the University’s 23-page report, nor to demonize those that felt the need to complain; however there are some things weighing on me that I felt the need to say.

I came to Ohio State as a very sheltered and naïve 17 year old (sorry Mom and Dad). I had never smoked a cigarette (and still haven’t) or drank any significant amount of alcohol. My knowledge of the opposite sex was limited at best. Upon making the band, I found myself as a young, female member of a male-dominated organization of 17-23 year olds.

Was there alcohol? Of course. Were there crude jokes? Of course. Did some people make questionable decisions? Absolutely. 

However, never once did I feel unsafe or forced to participate in something that made me uncomfortable. I was always free to walk away. The idiot outliers were not part of mainstream OSUMB culture, and more frequently were laughed at than revered. The guys I was in the band with were some of my best friends, and fiercely protective of me. I trust them wholeheartedly. 

I would challenge you to scrutinize any organization of over 200 college students, as these vilified behaviors are undoubtedly present in each and every one of them. And anyone that truly believes otherwise is kidding themselves.

It sickens me that we will now be judged by the “outside world” from a few extreme examples in a university report. However, what saddens me most is that this organization, which is over 120 years old, will now be remembered for this debacle and not the decades of exceptional music and marching. It is our job as alumni to bring the conversation back to those basics: the music, the marching and the tradition of excellence.

The people I was in band with are some of the best people I’ve known in my life. Despite how we will be described, we were good kids. My fellow alumni are now scientists, accountants, teachers, lawyers, NASA engineers, meteorologists, police officers and physicians.  They are moms and dads, little league coaches and volunteers. They are leaders in their communities and they will continue to be - because that is who they are to the core.

When I became a member of TBDBITL, I became a part of a family. My time with the OSUMB was the pinnacle of my experience at Ohio State. I will always be honored to have been a part of this organization and will stand up for it now more than ever. I can only hope that the thousands of TBDBITL alumni will stand with me.

How firm thy friendship ... WB.  

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why I Believe ...

This post will tackle a very different topic than most on this blog. However given that this is my only "platform" to share my opinions, it will just have to do ... 

As a physician, I frequently field medically-related questions from friends and family. I recently received an email from a college friend inquiring about the safety of the HPV vaccine, as he is the father of two young girls. He shared a link to an article which highlighted some of these concerns, particularly given that he felt he was generally “skeptical of a lot of vaccines”.

I struggled with how to respond to him, as I am not skeptical of vaccines.

I can provide links and PDFs to reputable news sources and primary scientific literature addressing the safety and efficacy of vaccines; however in this "debate", those sources tend to be quickly dismissed by the mainstream. Instead, the voices of celebrities without college degrees, media outlets looking for ratings and conspiracy theorists believing in a massive, secret genocide campaign by Big Pharma, provide the most reliable information. 

I am no expert on vaccines, but I did go to school for twenty years to embark on a career of lifelong learning. I have learned to critically appraise scientific literature and when possible, to try to use only evidence-based therapies in treating my patients. In my four years of undergrad, four years of medical school and three (of four) years of residency, I have received no kickbacks from any pharmaceutical companies or vaccine manufacturers. In fact, I'm not even allowed to get a free pen from those companies, as to not appear unethical. 

Vaccines are safe. 

Specifically, with regards to the HPV vaccine, there has been tremendous misinformation in the media (see aforementioned article above). One of the scientists whose research helped develop one of the HPV vaccines has expressed some concerns about the time frame for vaccination (not knowing how long protection will last), not the absolute safety of the vaccine, despite claims otherwise. In fact, she co-authored a paper on the efficacy and safety of HPV vaccines in 2011 (Harper DM, Vierthaler SL. Next Generation Cancer Protection: The Bivalent HPV Vaccine for Females. ISRN Obstet Gynecol. 2011;2011:457204), in which it doesn't seem she harbors such serious concerns about the vaccine that she "can't sleep at night". 

The VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) HPV vaccine death data that is haphazardly tossed around in social media is completely invalid. As of June 2011, there have been 68 deaths reported within 1 year of vaccination. Only 32 of those have been confirmed and none of them have been attributed to vaccination. A 2011 meta-analysis of randomized-controlled trials looked at those that had received HPV vaccine versus placebo (~ 20,000 per group). The placebo group had 15 deaths during the study period as compared to 19 in the vaccine group; side effects were primarily related to local effects from the vaccine. 

We are facing an unprecedented rise in vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States, with frequent outbreaks of pertussis, measles and mumps. And we continue to see the devastating effects of vaccine-preventable diseases in the developing world where the luxury of vaccines frequently don't exist. 

I could continue to cite statistics and data which I truly believe in, but instead I'll share some of the personal reasons I believe in vaccines.

I have cried with parents in the pediatric ICU after their unvaccinated teenage son died from complications of influenza, 
I have sat and grieved with a husband in the medical ICU as he struggled with the decision to withdraw life support from his wife dying of metastatic cervical cancer, 
I have spent hours at the bedside of a critically ill unvaccinated adult patient with septic shock from S. pneumoniae bacteremia, 
I have tossed and turned, unable to sleep, after an after-hours phone call with the mother of an unvaccinated infant with fever - worrying I was missing the signs of early-onset bacterial sepsis, 
I have commiserated with colleagues battling on the front lines against the resurgence of pertussis - working to save the lives of infants too young to be vaccinated,
and I personally have participated in a clinical trial for a human H7N9 influenza vaccine in the hopes of helping to avert another pandemic. 

Vaccines are not perfect, but they are safe. They will not save everyone, but shouldn’t we try? 

Monday, September 3, 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year ...

College football is back. Thank God.

I can say without hesitation that my days are brighter from late August through January each year (and then thankfully the NFL playoffs are upon us). I may be biased, but the college football experience makes it the greatest sport in this country. From the smells of fresh cut grass, charcoal and barbecue to the sounds of marching bands and the roar of crowds to the visual pageantry and rich traditions, it completely overwhelms your senses.

But I have a feeling that you already knew all of that.  

So, without further adieu, I bring you a few of the many thoughts that crossed my mind during week one of the college season.  

Man those helmets are slippery suckers. 
We're trying to protect the players ... I get it. Over the last 3-5 years we've all witnessed a series of rule changes and new penalties which have begun to change how the game of football is played. Fact. This season of college football brings with it another wave of rule changes intended to protect players and prevent the situations that make them the most vulnerable on the field. 

Kick-offs now originate from the 35 yard line, potentially resulting in more touchbacks (the ball now comes out to the 25 yard line) and arguably, fewer high power collisions on returns. To me, special teams is one of the best aspects of football and I was a little worried that we might see fewer kick off returns (no, I'm not advocating for injuries). The numbers may prove this to be the case, but in the games I've watched, I've still seen quite a few kick-offs land just outside the goal line leading to a return.

The other highly publicized new rule from the NCAA states that a player must leave the game for one play if they lose their helmet on the field. I have been surprised over the past 1-2 seasons at how many helmets do come off during plays. Obviously a helmet can't be glued to a player's head/neck, but it also shouldn't come off with the slightest direct force. I mean ... it's supposed to protect your head. My only, somewhat paranoid, concern about this rule is that certain high-profile players (particularly running backs) could be targeted in the pile and have their helmets pulled off requiring them to leave the game. We'll see if that ever happens, but in the meantime, just keep the gosh darn thing on your noggin.

Now to the games ... 

Luck's got nothing to do with it ...  
Andrew Luck deserved to be the #1 overall draft pick. Not only has he been impressive in NFL preseason play (more on the NFL to come in future posts), but Stanford's nail-biter vs. San Jose St. was all the evidence I needed.  They barely squeaked out a 20-17 win at home against a Spartan team that went 5-7 a year ago. It will be interesting to see how their season plays out.

I always thought Montee was a cool name ... apparently not.
Despite losing Russell Wilson, Wisconsin's Achilles' heel for the season may be their defense, not their offense. The Badger "O" may not have put up huge numbers against Northern Iowa, however they seemed to be effective when they needed to be. Danny O'Brien had a productive day going 19/23 for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns (with no interceptions) and Montee (that's Mon-tay to you) Ball gained 120 yards on 32 carries. Ball wasn't as productive as we've seen in the past, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry; however he was understandably preoccupied by having to constantly correct the pronunciation of his name (eye roll). In all seriousness, Wisconsin's secondary may be a big weakness if they have any injury issues with their starters. Their back-up corners gave up pass plays of 55 and 31 yards in the 4th quarter ... both resulting in TDs.

That's why it's called a strength ...  
Denard Robinson very well may go on to win the Heisman Trophy; however as we saw against Alabama, he will not be successful unless Michigan utilizes his unique skill set. Although the Scarlet & Gray part of me is always happy to see UM struggle, I can only imagine how frustrated Wolverine fans were watching the game on Saturday night. Denard's strength is his speed, size (and ability to blend in behind the O-line) and mobility. He is a play maker ... he is not a pocket passer. Don't get me wrong, Shoelace can certainly complete some impressive passes, and we saw that in Dallas; but UM's offense would have been much more productive if he had carried the ball on more plays in the first half. Now their defense is another story ...  

Wait - you can score 7 points?
Alabama's offense seems to be the real deal. McCarron threw for just better than 50% (11/21); however he was extremely productive, averaging 9.5 yards per throw and 2 TDs. Most importantly, he appeared to make good decisions and looked much more comfortable running the Crimson Tide's offense. And there seems to be little doubt that Alabama will continue its streak of impressive backs with freshman T.J. Yeldon. He averaged 10.1 yards per carry, breaking 100 yards on just 11 carries. The caveat is that Michigan's defense has not been their strength over the past several seasons. One thing is for certain, for Alabama to continue to replace all those field goals from a year ago for touchdowns they'll have to do better on 3rd down: they were only 3/10 against Michigan.

Thank goodness there are 4 quarters.  
Oklahoma's offense clearly has some kinks to work out. Despite returning Senior QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma fans were in for a nail-biter until the 4th quarter of their game against UTEP when the Sooners finally scored 2 TDs to put the Miners away. The 10-7 score at the end of the 3rd quarter seemed to finally spark some life into the OU offense who ended up with over 400 yards spit evenly between the passing and rushing attacks. Jones finally settled down and started making completions and finished 21/36 for 222 yards and 2 TDs. One thing's for sure, OU will have to get out the gate faster against their stauncher opponents this season or they won't be able to make up enough ground in the 4th quarter. 

The other team doesn't have to score points?
There is no question that Aaron Murray will have a great season at QB for UGA, he's already proven to be a proficient passer and effective leader with a strong grasp of the playbook. Freshman Todd Gurley had an impressive debut with 100 yards and 2 TDs on only 8 carries. The bigger concern for Georgia moving forward may be their defense. They gave up 347 yards (199 yards rushing) to a Buffalo team that went 3-9 last year. Not only were the Bulls able to have a balanced offensive attack, they were able to capitalize in the red zone, ending the game with 23 points (culminated with one 4th quarter TD). Obviously UGA had no problem winning this game, but against a more proficient SEC opponent they might not have quite so much breathing room. 

Now that the season has started, let's begin to move on.
It was a turbulent off-season for college football. There are always obligatory coaching transitions and speculation regarding new talent, however the far-reaching and appalling scandal at Penn State left a scar on college football which will be slow to heal. The victims undoubtedly deserve both monetary and legal retribution, and Jerry Sandusky also deserves his day in court; however I believe that it's time to begin to move on. 

Although I was never a huge fan of Joe Paterno (for a myriad of reasons which I won't bore you with now), I have always respected Penn State. One of the most impressive (slash overwhelming) college football gameday experiences I have ever witnessed was at Penn State.  As a member of TBDBITL, I had the opportunity to travel to State College in 2005 for the OSU vs. PSU game. It was an 8pm kickoff and a terribly dreary day for a place nicknamed Happy Valley; however Penn State had organized one of its now infamous "white outs" for the largely anticipated match-up. Although my Buckeyes ultimately fell to the Nittany Lions 17-10, I will never forget the atmosphere in Beaver Stadium that night. The white out, the deafening noise, the energy of the fans and the endless onslaught of "Zombie Nation" are what college football is all about. 

I tell that story to say this: let's get back to football. We can't, and shouldn't, forget what happened at Penn State, and they will pay the price in more ways than we can begin to imagine. However, for the sake of college football, I'm hopeful that the epic atmosphere I experienced in Happy Valley in 2005 could someday exist again (although preferably not against Ohio State). 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weighing In On All The Hitting

Roger Goodell is in a tough spot.  

I feel for The Commish, really, I do.    

Although I don't feel too bad, because really, how bad can you feel for someone who takes a 20% paycut "because of the economy" and still makes $8.8 million a year?  Not too terribly bad, in my humble opinion.

I mean, you have to admit that the guy currently finds himself in a bit of a pickle.  

In recent years, the healthcare and scientific communities have been accumulating compelling evidence linking recurrent concussions and other traumatic brain injuries to the development of devastating neurodegenerative disorders like Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig's Disease).  Other studies have shown alarmingly higher rates of depression and dementias in retired NFL players than in the general population.  In 2009, partly due to this evidence, House Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) moved to hold Congressional hearings about the impact of head injuries on NFL players.  A somewhat embarrassing debacle subsequently played out before Congress and the American public (or at least all three people in the United States who actually watch CSPAN), culminating with the Co-Chairmen of the NFL's Committee on Head Injuries (Dr. Ira Casson and Dr. David Viano) resigning from their positions.   

The heat is on Mr. Goodell ... the heat is ... on.  

Due to the increasing pressure from Capitol Hill, the media, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and other sources, the NFL has begun to place a big emphasis on the importance of clean hits on the field.  More specifically, they're working to decrease the amount of helmet-to-helmet contact that players receive and penalize players for any and all malicious hits.  

After the slate of games in Week 6 of NFL play, it became clear that this year the NFL was taking this concept of "unnecessary roughness" to the next level.  Dozens of fines have been handed out this season to a myriad of players deemed to have acted inappropriately on the field.  These fines have ranged from $5,000 to $75,000 for a "repeat offender".  Ouch

Sounds good ... right?

In the words of the ever-wise Lee Corso: not so fast, my friend! 

Don't get me wrong, players absolutely deserve to be protected from intentional, malevolent hits on the field.  But, it's no secret that this has been a controversial issue over the last several weeks ... and for good reason.  I take issue with these fines and attempted paradigm shift for two big reasons.  

Number one: the evolution of the game of football.  

This may sound like a pretty daunting and esoteric subject for this argument, but bear with me.  

Sometime between 1968 and 1975 the game of football would be changed forever by a man still not known by many today.  The Cincinnati Bengals were created as an expansion team in 1968, and Assistant Coach Bill Walsh noted that the team had considerable struggles establishing a strong running game in their first few seasons.  Walsh outlined a game plan to include multiple short, horizontal pass plays, typically within 10-15 yards of the line of scrimmage to ho help open up the running game.  Defenses commented that these plays "nickled and dimed" them, but it evolved into an extremely effective way of working the pass to help set up the run.  Walsh eventually became the Head Coach of the San Fransisco 49ers, and continued to implement the same offensive strategies that he had developed in Cincinnati while in California.  After defeating the 49ers in a 1985 playoff game, Giants coach Bill Parcels famously commented to a reporter "what do you think of the West Coast offense now?", giving the offense its name today.

Over the years many variants of the West Coast offense have emerged, including the Air Coryell offense and the Erhardt-Perkins offense.  However, few, if any, teams utilize a pure version of any of these offenses; and most practice a hybrid of these strategies with others.  

But, I would argue that West Coast offense aside, we have undoubtedly seen a gradual shift in the overall offensive strategy of most teams in the National Football League.  For decades, football was a game of hard-nosed, tough-fought yards which operated primarily under a run first, pass later mentality.  

Those days are long gone.  

When you look at the statistics for the top two teams in each division of the NFC and AFC at the Week 11 mark, the numbers speak for themselves.  Overall, those teams average 225.3 passing yards per game and 121.5 rushing yards per game.  The three teams with the best records in the NFL (Atlanta, NY Jets and New England who each sit at 7-2) have similar numbers, averaging 228.2 passing yards per game and 128.5 rushing yards per game.  In fact, of those 16 teams, there are six averaging less than 106 yards rushing per game.  

It's hard to argue that the NFL is not predominantly a passing league when most (successful) teams average about 100 more yards per game passing than they do rushing.  

However, the point of this long diatribe and history lesson is that all of this passing creates an environment in which receivers find themselves in "vulnerable" positions many times throughout a game.  Every time they go over the middle to catch a pass, or elevate to get a hand on a slightly errant throw by their QB, they are frequently unable to defend or protect themselves from incoming defenders.  And since receivers, arguably, are doing these very things much more frequently today than they were 30 years ago, they will incur more injuries. 

But ... who's fault is that exactly?  Is it the fault of the safety or linebacker sitting in pass coverage in the middle of the field?  Is it the fault of the receiver for not putting their own safety as the number one priority?  Or, is it the fault of the QB for throwing a ball which required the receiver to endanger themselves to make a play?  

The NFL is trying to turn a very gray issue into a black and white one, and I don't believe that's fair to all parties involved.  If defenders are going to find themselves paying $10,000-$15,000 for "launching" themselves at a receiver running a crossing route across the middle of the field, then I would argue that a QB who floats a pass and subsequently endangers their receiver should also have to pay a fine.  I would also argue that certain plays, no matter how perfectly executed, endanger the players more than others.  So, if safety is the #1 priority, then shouldn't those plays be completely banned from the game?  

In reality, when you're moving at the speeds these players move at on the field, it's not always possible to perfectly control every aspect of your body (or to predict what the other guy is going to do with his) ... so why are we expecting players to do that? 

Again, flagrant helmet-to-helmet hits should unquestionably be fined and punished; but we're seeing fines handed down for players "launching" themselves or landing blows to the shoulder and upper chest in a way deemed to be particularly aggressive or excessive by the powers that be.  

Which leads me to issue number two: who is actually making all of these decisions?

I'm not ordinarily an uber-sympathetic listener when it comes to the gripes of NFL players.  Dozens of issues have apparently been brewing in locker rooms across America, which will undoubtedly culminate with some sort of strike, lock out or similar act of contrition following the end of the 2010-2011 NFL season.  Like me, you may struggle to sympathize with many of their complaints and wonder if any of them are grounded in a real-world reality at all.  

But, in this case, I think they have a legitimate point.

Who exactly hands down these fines?  According to Commissioner Goodell, there's a panel of NFL Executives including himself, Ray Anderson (VP of Operations), Carl Johnson (Officiating Director), other front office staff, and former players/coaches like Art Shell and Merton Hanks (who is also, coincidentally, Assistant Director of Operations for the NFL) which evaluates film of the hits and deliberates on appropriate punishment for any identified violations.  At first glance, this may sound reasonable, but many NFL players have spoken up and voiced concerns about the policy.  

One of the most outspoken critics has been Troy Polamalu, strong safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Polamalu believes that current players and coaches should be involved in the evaluation process to ensure that players feel that their voice and and side is heard.  Commissioner Goodell and VP Anderson quickly quashed this idea, issuing statements in which they defended the current process and identified potential issues with Polamalu's suggestion (mainly potential bias between rival teams and players).  Other players have suggested creating a panel with recently retired players and coaches as to avoid any bias, but to still ensure a realistic, grounded approach to each and every situation.  Individuals like former LB Tedy Bruschi and Coaches Mike Ditka and Tony Dungy have been mentioned as possible candidates for such a panel.  

I have to agree with the players that the current system raises some eyebrows.  From a slightly cynical perspective, all these fines create big money for the league, yet they're the ones dolling out the punishments.  It's definitely questionable that there's no unbiased third party involved in the decision making process.  And, although there may be "former" players on the panel, Hanks hasn't played in the NFL for 11 years and Shell (who was an O-lineman) has been out of the coaching picture for about 5.  Not exactly recently removed.  

If the NFL is going to continue to be so aggressive with fines for malicious or aggressive hits on the field, then they must do two things.  First, they have to be clearer about what is acceptable and what's not.  One NFL Assistant Coach commented that the instructional video sent out by the NFL to every team in the league just created more confusion for the players and coaching staff.  NFL leadership can help achieve some clarity by involving recently retired or current coaches/players in the decision-making process.  These players and coaches should have the opportunity to hear the leadership explain every decision and break down every "malicious" play for them - especially when there's controversy.  Money aside, the players deserve to understand why they're being called out for their technique so that they can adequately adjust their play in the future.    

But, the bottom line is this: unless we want to completely change the offensive identity of the NFL today, players are gong to be susceptible to big hits.  The NFL should continue to enforce punishments for flagrant helmet-to-helmet contact, but they should tread very carefully when considering fines for other hits deemed too "aggressive" unless they want to risk altering the sport of football forever.