When Gordon Hayward, a very good player, suffered a grotesque injury Tuesday night, NBA players filled social media with support and condolences.

When Aaron Rodgers, perhaps the best player in America’s biggest sport, was injured Sunday, the man who hit him exchanged insults with Rodgers as he walked off the field.

With one hit last week, Anthony Barr altered the balance of power in the NFC North. Let’s not pretend that’s a good thing, even if you’re a Vikings fan.

Barr watched Rodgers throw a pass and was close enough to justify reaching out and grabbing the quarterback. Barr knew that the ball was gone, but finished the play by bringing Rodgers to the ground.

As Rodgers neared the ground, Barr raised his legs so all of his body weight fell on Rodgers’ shoulders. He suffered a broken collarbone and probably will miss the rest of the season.

Was the play dirty, or legal? So often in the NFL, a hit can be both. Barr wasn’t blatantly late and didn’t make a move to injure Rodgers that could be easily identified at game speed. But he is a large man with excellent body control and he made sure to land in the most damaging way possible on a great player and a union brother.

Did the officials err in not penalizing the hit? Perhaps, but how much can you expect from part-time employees trying to judge intent in a split second?

What we know with certainty is that Barr wanted to punish Rodgers as much as he could within the gray areas of the rules.

The result of that hit is that the NFL is less entertaining today, and a Vikings division title, if they should win one this year, would be devalued.

The NFL is missing one of its best quarterbacks in Rodgers, one of its best defenders in J.J. Watt and its most entertaining receiver in Odell Beckham.

There is no legislative solution to this problem, because the problem is baked into the sport. Back in the days when reporters spent more one-on-one time with NFL assistant coaches, sometimes in their offices, defensive coordinators often would admit privately that they wanted to knock opposing quarterbacks from the game. Gregg Williams, the man who plotted Brett Favre’s destruction in the Superdome, still is employed, and Barr made clear with his actions that damaging an opposing quarterback remains an unspoken goal.

Of course, public opinion tends to depend on whose quarterback is getting gored. When the Saints brutalized Favre during that NFC Championship Game, Vikings fans were outraged. When Barr hit Rodgers, the prevalent social media opinion in Minnesota seemed to be that Rodgers should shut up and accept his injury.

There was a parallel play in Sunday’s game. Vikings receiver Laquon Treadwell flattened Packers cornerback Lenzy Pipkins with a blindside block. Treadwell was penalized for a personal foul.

Treadwell’s helmet brushed or tapped Pipkins, but most of the force he employed came from the shoulder. Vikings players celebrated on the sideline, but the hit cost them 15 yards.

The Vikings can argue that the Barr and Treadwell hits were legal, but both were meant to damage fellow players.

Barr could have let up. Treadwell could have blocked Pipkins without leveling him.

NFL employees and fans with old-school mentalities will decry any attempt to reduce violence in the game, but medical science and weekly injury reports demonstrate just how devastating these hits can be.

If not for cheap shots, Favre would have taken the Vikings to a Super Bowl and probably won it.

Had Barr not fallen just so on Rodgers, the Vikings might have won last Sunday, anyway.

Now the league and the division and the Vikings’ game in December at Lambeau Field are all less interesting.

NFL players shouldn’t leave it to the league office and the gameday officials to safeguard the game. They should care more about the health of their competitors, and their league.

Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com