This pervasive issue has completely taken over modern sports-writing. "A physical encounter at Stamford Bridge" is what you will see when the writer actually means "John Terry was beating people with sticks." "The Steelers are a very physical team" means "In Pittsburgh, they enjoy shattering kneecaps."
This sort of euphemism is employed, presumably, so that people don't feel guilty about liking sports in which people cause pain, often on purpose. It is also employed to make fans feel less squeamish about liking Hines Ward, because he is a "physical" player, and not a "violent psychopath."
This is asinine and sissified. Precision in language, please.