A Clearing of the Air on the NFL’s “Changes” to the Tackling Rules

Thanks to misinformation spread by ESPN and several uneducated players’ comments, there is a general consensus amongst fans and players that the NFL is making sweeping changes to the game and how it’s played.  The truth is far less exciting and doesn’t increase TV ratings and website hits like controversy does, so nobody is bothering to dwell on the little details like the facts.  Well here are a few facts to help clear the air.

FALSE: The NFL is banning helmet to helmet hits from the game.

FACT: Helmet to helmet hits are already illegal and have been for years.

FALSE: The NFL is banning all violent hits from the game.

FACT: Launching your body at a defenseless player is already illegal and has been a while.

FALSE: The NFL is changing the way defenses can play the game.

FACT:The NFL is increasing the punishment for breaking already existing rules because the players were blatantly disregarding them and getting seriously injured.

Rodney Harrison was frequently atop the NFL’s most fined player list in his playing days, and when he said on Football Night in America that the fines never deterred him from taking a cheap shot the NFL took notice.  Nate Burleson got fined $15,000 for a uniform violation and punting a ball into the stands after scoring a touchdown.  That was the same fine than several players received for helmet to helmet hits that resulted in players missing games due to concussions.

Player safety is important whether the fans and players agree or not.  The league isn’t trying to change the way the game is played, they are trying to make the game safer for those that play it because having crippled retired players and injured superstar players isn’t good for anybody.  DeSean Jackson is a pretty exciting player and he’s going to miss several weeks with whiplash and a severe concussion.  Was the one hit so exciting that it can make up for a star player being gone for several weeks?

James Harrison has probably taken the foolishness over the rule enforcement to the highest level possible by throwing his temper tantrum and threatening to retire because he “doesn’t even know how he’s supposed to play the game anymore.”  Blowing up a defenseless receiver and then gloating about it isn’t manly or tough, it’s cowardly.  If I run up and kick a guy in the groin or punch him when he’s not looking does that make me tougher than him?   How about using a weapon in a fistfight?  Is that manly or tough?  No, it’s not.  So using your helmet as a weapon doesn’t make you tough either.

I’ve also had enough with the “it’s football, not ballet” argument too.  Thanks to video games like NFL Blitz and dumbed down highlight segments like ESPN’s “Jacked Up” there is a whole generation of fans that only watches the game for brutal hits.  If that’s what you are into that’s fine, but maybe you’re better served watching MMA, demolition derbies or Jackass if all you want to see is violent collisions and bodily harm.

Football combines strategy, physical ability and teamwork better than any sport and it has captivated America since the late 1800’s.  The move towards a safer game isn’t unprecedented in football.  In fact, the game was in danger of being outlawed after a series of deaths on the field in in the 1930’s.  Changes were made to make the game safer and football lived on.  The clothesline tackle, head slap, forearm shiver and face masking were all outlawed and the game survived that too.  The NFL isn’t even changing the rules so I’m positive the game will survive this too.

It’s funny to see the vehement reaction to the announcement that breaking the rules will result in stiffer penalties when the NFL has made rule changes that dramatically affected the game and nobody made a peep.  The rule that allowed the offensive tackles to line up farther from the line of scrimmage to help them handle the pass rush better, moving the kickoffs back five yards to the 30 yard line and the emphasis on downfield contact on the receivers that has allowed all sorts of passing records to be broken.  All of those rules drastically changed the game and nobody cared.  Why are people getting so riled up about enforcing the rules that are in the rulebook?

The NFL did help make this mess with the institution and emphasis on ridiculous ticky tack penalties like the 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalties for incidental hands to the head hits on the quarterback or the automatic first downs for hands to the face which offer minimal player protection.

The bottom line is the NFL is not changing the way football players play the game, they are stiffening the penalties for breaking the rules.  It’s no different than when you were a kid.  Think about it, if your only punishment for breaking curfew was being told to never do it again, how likely were you to break curfew again?  If you got grounded for a month when you broke curfew, you bet you’d be on time more often than not.

The league has to protect the players and they need to be proactive.  To have all those vicious and unnecessary hits one day after Eric LeGrand, a junior at Rutgers, was paralyzed was more than stunning.  The league is doing the right thing to send the message that there will be real punishment for breaking the rules.

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2 Responses to “A Clearing of the Air on the NFL’s “Changes” to the Tackling Rules”

  1. m. windrick says:

    Roger Goodell is a wimp who never played the game at the level he is trying to implement! Hey Roger, if you spoke English from age 8 to 20 and suddenly you were told that you must now speak fluent chinese or get fined or suspended you would be in a no win situation! Roger. yo8u are surrounded by yes men who are afraid to disagree with you. Also most of the offensive guys agree with you but the defensive guys, disagree with you! Roger, QUIT! You are not qualified to make the changes you want. Select a cerebral former player who understands the finest nuances of the game. DO NOT leave yourself open to offensive players feigning injuries. DON’T RUSH TO JUDGMENT! The game has gone on nearly 100 years without you “meddling” in it! So ANY changes must be well thought out and tested! I don’t see how anything at all can be changed before next year! Also to fine Harrison $75.0 & the others $59.0 is ludacris! Also to suspend Ben 4 games and Bret 0, that’s ZERO games shows the ridiculous unfairness the game takes on under your lradership. Roger, have the guts to do football a favor and resign! When the first QB controvercy took place in the 70a, Jack Lambert said “Let’s just put skirts on ’em all.” Would you have supported that roger?

  2. M-

    I’m sorry but your comments are the exact type of ignorant commments I’m talking about. Helmet to helmet hits are illegal and have been illegal for years. Nothing is changing other than the penalty for breaking the rules.

    If you keep letting helmet to helmet hits go with minimal punishment there won’t be any cerebral former players because they will all have dimensia from the concussions.

    The league is penalizing cheaters and cheap shot artists, nothing more. Please take the time to educate yourself on the issue before taking a stance.