Stephen Cooper has never made a hit he regretted.
On Wednesday, the Chargers middle linebacker wasn't about to make any apologies when speaking out against the NFL's recent crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits, saying the league should be more concerned with selling out its stadiums than protecting its players.
“I don't really agree with it,” Cooper said. “People keep talking about these hits, but what do most fans want to come see? They want to see people get their heads taken off. We have enough problems trying to sell tickets and trying to put people in the stands.
“You take that 'wow' factor away, and that boring stuff starts happening in football, then they're going to go elsewhere, watching UFC fights or go watching ladies' football. Women's football is more exciting than the men's game because the type of rules that we have. They get to go out there, have fun, showboat and play. And as you can see, they get more people in the stands.”
Earlier in the day, New England safety Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson were each fined $50,000 for separate hits on Sunday. Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison was docked $75,000 for a pair of hits.
Cooper said Meriweather's hit was the wrong hit, “but at the same, it's football.” The Charger added Robinson's hit was clean and shouldn't have been disciplined, likening football players to “gladiators in an arena” who are all playing to be physical.
The league is stepping up enforcement of its helmet-to-helmet policy, which is designed to protect players from concussions, neck injuries and other trauma that comes with hitting a defenseless receiver.
Cooper said he doesn't want to see players injured, but he believes the media has blown the hits out of proportion and now the NFL is punishing the wrong players.
“Quarterbacks get paid $100 million," Cooper said. "Those are the smart guys on the field. Why aren't those guys getting fined? As a quarterback, they should know where the ball is going and what kind of coverage they're trying to throw the ball in.”
Cooper, an eight-year veteran, added that he doesn't regret the helmet-to-helmet hits he's made in the past. He recalled earlier in his career when he hit a Baltimore running back on a goal-line stand.
“I had a fumble, and I almost changed the play around,” Cooper said. “For me to sit there and not stop someone from getting in the end zone? I'm going to do whatever I can to help this team win.”