In the wake of the past few National Football League seasons being full of injury and rule controversy, the NFL owners once again voted to change the game of football. Players in the upcoming season will no longer be allowed to lower their helmets to initiate a tackle.
Failure to adhere to this policy will result in a 15-yard penalty, and guilty players could be ejected from the game based on the referees’ discretion. This rule modification is yet another in a long string of polarizing changes to the NFL.
With newer studies on the long-term effects of head trauma in contact sports—especially the NFL—and past seasons showing an increase in injuries, it is clear that this rule is about one thing: player safety. Atlanta Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay, who is also the chair of the NFL Competition Committee, called this an important change, according to Forbes.
“We saw so many hits where a player lowered his head and delivered a hit and either hurt himself or the player he was hitting,” McKay said, according to Forbes.
This rule, however, has been met with stark criticism. Some argue that this modification will save the game of football, while others believe that it will turn out to be its demise.
Part of the argument stems from the changes to the stipulations of a legal catch in the NFL. In some eyes, this rule has been a total disaster. Referees are forced to make snap judgement calls in close games, and it has ended up costing teams’ yards, points and wins. Many argue that this rule will yield a similar result.
Some of the most outspoken opponents to this rule have been current NFL players. San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman told Bleacher Report, “It’s ridiculous. [It’s] like telling a driver if you touch the lane lines, you’re getting a ticket. [It’s] gonna lead to more lower-extremity injuries.”
“It continues to put us in a predicament … it makes it hard for us to play defense in this league,” Buffalo Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said, according to Bleacher Report. “It is football at the end of the day. There are going to be injuries. You can’t legislate everything out.”
While proponents of the rule believe that they are eliminating brain rattling big hits, this will not stop players from experiencing concussion symptoms and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. As long as there is play-to-play contact, players will continue to risk CTE from sustained sub-concussive hits.
Even if this rule does cut down on injuries, there is no guarantee that it will totally improve the game. Part of this uncertainty is due to the referees. Where a player chooses to place his helmet is one that is made in too short a time to measure. Sometimes it isn’t a choice, but a reflex. The game is played at lightning speed by the best athletes in the world.
The referees, frankly, already have a hard time keeping up. Without a doubt, the rule will lead to some missed and incorrect calls, costing teams’ plays and slowing the game to a grinding halt.
While, yes, player safety should be of the utmost importance, the integrity of the game must be preserved as well. With the NFL struggling for ways to keep up its ratings, it may not be the correct time to implement a rule that will slow the game. The owners in their offices may think they know best, but perhaps they should spend more time listening to their players on the field.