Football fans across America feared the imminent death of football Wednesday as the NFL passed a new rule banning the use of the crown of the helmet for hits outside the tackle box.
This strikes a nerve with fans as well as players who feel that pending lawsuits have driven the league to make some extreme changes in the name of safety.
Running backs of past and present came out of the woodwork to combat the rule fearing that it would not only be difficult to officiate, but that it would make the game more dangerous rather than enhance safety. Some even questioned whether they wanted to play in a league where this rule existed.
Fans calling into radio shows and posting online slammed the decision, some fearing that flag football would someday replace what we know the NFL to be today.
It appears we live in a society where safe equals soft and soft football is just not an option. After all of the injuries and post-career discoveries of the long term effects of head trauma—and yes, lawsuits—are we really upset about one rule change made in the name of safety?
Former St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk said the rule is “stupid” and questions the enforcement by referees as well as how offensive players will protect themselves without lowering their helmets. Current Seattle Seahawks running back Michael Robinson said he’s been taught for 25 years to “deliver the blow, not accept the blow.”
In a press conference held after the competition committee met, committee members attempted to alleviate concerns by further explaining the rule, but if seems those explanations fell on deaf ears.
Jeff Fisher, Rams head coach and committee member, clarified that there is no rule prohibiting the use of shoulders, the side of the helmet, the hairline or facemask. It is specifically the crown of the helmet when players are outside of the tackle box.
Also, is no one hearing the words “outside of the tackle box” in the description of the rule? Crown-of-helmet hits are not even being banned altogether. This rule is really a reduction in this type of hit.
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s VP of officiating, addressed concerns that refs would over-enforce the rule, slowing down play.
“We don’t feel that this is any more difficult than any of the other player safety rules that we have,” Blandino said.
I disagree with Blandino here, only in the sense that this is probably the most significant rule change the league has made in terms of safety. It directly addresses the specific issue of head trauma.
Blandino also pointed to the “educational process” that takes place for any rule change so that officials understand what does NOT need to be called. The committee said more often than not contact, even with the helmet, will be legal.
It is too soon to tell exactly what effect this will have on the game as a whole. Like the coaches, players and officials, fans need to wait for an even clearer explanation and video references to pass real judgement.
What we know right now is that football needs to be safer. This rule is meant to make the game safer. There is very little short of it that would have made an actual impact.
No one is attempting to take the physicality or even the brutality out of the game. If and when that ever happens, then we can have a conversation about the end of football. This rule seems to be more of a re-route than a total change of course.
What all this uproar sounds like is players whining about times changing and having to be creative about how they will successfully work around the rules of the game. Hitting with the crown of the helmet is a strategy, nothing more. All this means is players and coaches need to figure out a new strategy.
Isn’t that what they get paid millions of dollars to do?
Fisher said after the committee met, he received a phone call from former star NFL running back Eddie George, who was deeply concerned about the new rule. Fisher said after a 15-minute conversation, George changed his mind.
Maybe we all need to have a 15-minute conversation before we declare the death of football as we know it.