The Kwansei Gakuin University quarterback rolls out and tosses an incomplete pass--and is then hit low from behind by a defensive player on the Nihon University team. The late hit occurred on the first play of the game in Tokyo's Chofu on May 6. (Provided by the American football team of Kwansei Gakuin University)

A vicious and extremely late hit against a defenseless quarterback in an American football game has led to a suspension, boycotted games and a government demand for an investigation.

Daichi Suzuki, commissioner of the Japan Sports Agency, on May 14 condemned the illegal tackle that occurred in a game between two universities on May 6.

“Such a dangerous play is absolutely unacceptable,” Suzuki said.

He said the agency intends to contact the Kantoh Collegiate Football Association to find out “why (the player) did such a thing.”

The hit came on the first play of the 51st annual match in the nation’s capital between Tokyo-based Nihon University and Kwansei Gakuin University from Hyogo Prefecture.

The Kwansei Gakuin University quarterback threw the ball and was slowing down after the pass was clearly incomplete. A Nihon University defensive player continued to run at full speed and smashed into the quarterback from behind, sending his body flying to the sidelines.

The low hit caused injuries to the quarterback, including damaged cartilage in the right knee and bruising on the lower back, that will take three weeks to heal, according to a Kwansei Gakuin University official.

Normally in football, defensive players are not allowed to hit the quarterback after he releases the ball. The cheap shot came around two seconds after the quarterback passed the ball.

Even after the injured quarterback was carried off the field, the same defensive player stayed in the game. He was ejected from the game after committing his third penalty on the fifth play.

The Kantoh Collegiate Football Association analyzed video footage of the game and concluded the tackle went beyond an “unnecessary roughness” foul. It said the hit falls under the official rule book’s definition of a “vicious personal foul (on an unguarded player).”

In a statement, the association condemned the player’s actions for “damaging the idea of fair play and sportsmanship that must be observed in all sports, let alone in American football.”

In a rare punishment against a player, the association will ban the late-hitter from playing in an undetermined number of games.

It also gave a stern warning to Masato Uchida, head coach of the Nihon University team.

Uchida has told the association that he will remove himself from the sidelines during the team’s games in spring as well as all coaching responsibilities through August.

Nihon University issued a statement of apology on its website to football fans and players of the Kwansei Gakuin University team.

However, the Kwansei Gakuin University team sent an official letter of complaint, dated May 10, to the Nihon University team, demanding a full explanation of the dirty play and a formal apology by May 16.

It warned that if Nihon University fails to issue a sincere response, Kwansei Gakuin University next fiscal year would cancel the traditional annual practice game that has been held for over half a century.

Other universities have taken note of the flagrant foul.

Hosei University, the University of Tokyo and Rikkyo University, which are in the same top division of the Kanto college league, informed the association on May 14 that they will cancel their scheduled games against Nihon University in the coming weeks.

A letter jointly signed by managers and head coaches of the teams said they cannot guarantee the safety of their players because there has been no official disciplinary action taken against the defensive player or the head coach of the Nihon University team. They also noted that Nihon University has taken no steps to prevent a recurrence of what happened on the gridiron.

The letter also said that guardians of the players and alumni have express concerns about the safety of the players.

Hosei University’s game against Nihon University was scheduled for May 20, the University of Tokyo’s was on June 9 and Rikkyo University’s was on June 10.

(This article was written by Issei Sakakibara and Shuhei Nomura.)