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NFL tries to send strong message in fining players for rough play

Millions of people will tune in tonight for Monday Night Football as the Panthers host Tampa Bay inone of the biggest games of the season. League officials will also be closely watching. The NFL placing more emphasis on ridding the game of excessively rough play, but not everyone is cheering the league's efforts. Sitting in front of his locker, Panthers defensive back Richard Marshall is taking tape off his ankles. As he cuts and then tugs again and again, he recalls what started as a routine play against New Orleans earlier this season. "I grabbed Reggie Bush - one of his guys was pushing me in my back. And me and Reggie Bush was going out of bounds. And they said I hit him out of bounds." Marshall was immediately called for a personal foul and flagged 15 yards. Then, a few days later, he received a letter from the league office. He was being fined $5,000 for the hit. The league is handing out more and more fines as it focuses on rough play like never before. The NFL's Ray Anderson is overseeing the directive handed down by Commissioner Roger Goodell. "The number one asset we have in this entire league is our players. And we have an obligation to protect them." The league's thinking is simple: That NFL play is at its best when its best players aren't injured. And Anderson says that means penalizing play that some fans enjoy seeing. "We know that an attractive part of the game are the big hits 'cause that's what people like. What we're intent on doing, however is making sure those big hits don't cross the line," Anderson says. Some fans like 25-year-old John Henrikson aren't convinced. "I think it's ridiculous," says Henrikson, speaking as he waits in line to use a portable toilet at a Panthers tailgate. "It's football. We're here to watch hitting and tackling. And the more and more you try and protect them - I mean, before long, we'll be playing touch football." The NFL won't say how much it's fined players overall, but individual fines typically range from $5,000 to and $15,000. There have also been at least six fines of $25,000 to $50,000. Two players have received one-game suspensions. Hall of Fame offensive lineman Joe DeLamielleure - whose vicious blocks once knocked three opponents out of the same game - says he appreciates that the NFL is better protecting its players. But he says the league is going too far. "There's no way in heck some of those calls that they make - a guy can stop in mid air, or before the whistle blows and stop the hit. And I've seen a lot of penalties that are called that are absolutely ridiculous," says DeLamielleure, who now lives in Charlotte. In October, Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro Safety Troy Polamalu said the rash of fines was creating a "pansy game". Whatever the case, the fines are affecting players on the field like Panthers strong safety Chris Harris. "I've had a play where I thought about it, getting ready to hit somebody, and I was like, man, they're fining people for everything, and it affected the way I tackled someone, and I actually thought about it during the game," Harris says. And that's OK with Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations. He says that shows the message is sinking in. For those players who don't get it yet, Anderson says the league's penalties will increase. But the league did show some rare flexibility following outcry over a $7,500 fine against a New York Giants player. Fans and media types like ESPN Radio's Mike Golic were beside themselves. "Let them play the stinkin' game of football the way it's supposed to be played and quit fining them for it. That was a great play," Golic said in a rant on the show he co-hosts, Mike and Mike in the Morning. In this case, the NFL did the unexpected. It rescinded the fine. But the NFL's overall position appears to be very rigid. Anderson says his stance on protecting players is non-negotiable.