The NFL Is Right To Put Player Safety First


March 20, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference at the annual NFL meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

In the last few days there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the NFL’s new rule that will penalize players who lower their helmet when engaging another player. This looks to impact running backs the most, and there are a lot of people who have voiced their dissatisfaction. NFL Network pundit, Mike Mayock recently said:

"“To me, a running back has got to be able to drop his pad level. And when a running back drops his pad level, his head goes with it. That’s just the way you play football. And from a defensive player’s perspective — which I was — I understand and respect that. I think it’s part of the game, and I don’t think you can legislate all contact and all forcible head hits out of this game.”"

Then we saw Dallas Cowboys legendary running back, Emmit Smith stating:

"“This has to be one of the most absurd rules I’ve heard in a long time in the game of football. There’s no way it’s possible for a running back to get to the situation where he has to make the decision whether or not to plow forward for an additional yard to keep the chains moving and keep the clock rolling to end the game or keep the chains moving so his team can continue to drive down the field to get a field goal to win the game.”"

You know what I hear when I read people criticising this new rule change which is designed to protect players and limit head injuries? This is what I hear: “But I don’t care if players suffer concussions and can’t remember who they are in ten years time. I paid my money to see some smash mouth football, and that’s what I want to see”

It’s as if fans are viewing football as some sort of bloodsport, much in the same way the Romans threw the Christians to the Lions and viewed it as entertainment. Fans, analysts, bloggers and journalists need to remember that if the league doesn’t make player safety the number one priority, we won’t have a game to watch in years to come. Sound a bit extreme? It has already been shown that parents are thinking twice before allowing or encouraging their children to take up football.

I don’t see it being a hard rule to enforce. You can clearly tell when a running back lowers his head with the sole purpose being to use it to inflict impact on an opposing player. There’s a difference between that and something which naturally happens during the heated nature of the game. It will be up to officials to make the distinction, but we have to give them a chance to get it right, before we just call it a stupid rule which is changing the face of football.

Thankfully, there are some players, both past and present who have come out in support of the new rule. Hall of fame running back, Jim Brown said:

"“I’m going to be very honest with you: I didn’t use my head. I used my forearm. And the palm of my hand. And my shoulders. And my shoulder pads. I wasn’t putting my head into too much of anything. I don’t think that sounds like a good idea to me. What is my guarantee that my head is going to be strong enough to hurt somebody else, and not hurt myself?”"

I can understand the frustration being voiced by running backs. I am sure they are feeling like they will have to change their running style (some more than others), and will be fearful of ‘running hard’, in case they pick up a fifteen yard penalty. Well, I am sorry fellas – the game changes, and if you have to change a little bit with it, then that’s just the way it has to be.

Some of the more ‘enthusiastic’ voices try to draw this out to what they see as a logical conclusion. They tell us that in a few years, we will all be watching flag football, and you won’t be able to even breathe on another player. Well, I think we know that won’t be the case. There’s a big difference between improving player safety and making football a non-contact sport. By its very nature, football is a very violent game (hence all the pads) and the league has a duty of care to its players. And these players should really be welcoming the move as oppose to seeing it as something which will hinder their play.

To quote Mike Mayock again:

"“I’m not a fan of this rule at all. I think it crosses a line. We all love safety, but at some point, football’s got to be football,” Mayock said. “If a running back can’t drop his pad level, I don’t think it’s football anymore.”"

We all love

safety, eh? Oh sure, but as long we still get to see helmet to helmet hits that have the potential to render someone unconscious? That sort of safety, right Mike?

I don’t really think we will see many players penalized for this to be honest. How many times during the course of a season do we see a RB deliberately lowering his helmet to deliver a hit? I think the NFL is just being cautious and giving the refs an option if the offense occurs.

The long term effects of concussions are still not that well known, but I know for sure that I want to be watching this great game for many years to come, and I applaud the NFL for putting player safety first.