Leading with your helmet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
For those of you that have been following the NFL this season, I’m sure that you have heard of the debate on the recent penalties for illegal helmet-to-helmet tackles. Just this past weekend, hits by Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson, and Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather were highly scrutinized and the players were eventually fined thousands of dollars. Apparently, this was the final straw for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, as he stated that helmet-to-helmet hits would now be reviewed for larger fines and possible suspensions. Although there has been much scrutiny from the players, the NFL is 100 percent correct on this situation.
Die-hard NFL fans and defensive players have been harping on one thing since the new policy: The NFL is making football a “soft” sport. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Concussions have been on the upswing even with helmets, pads, and other protection becoming more available. This is mainly because the ability of the players has steadily increased with this added protection. Guys like Ray Lewis, Harrison, and others have brought in an era of huge hits, much to the dismay of highly priced players like quarterbacks and wide receivers. The game has become more violent since the days of leather helmets and no pads. Add this to the fact that Harrison said, in a Pittsburgh Tribune Review article last week, that “I want to hurt somebody. If you hurt somebody, they’ll be back the next play. I don’t want to see anybody injured. But I’m not opposed to hurting anybody,” and you realize that this is why measures need to be taken to protect the players that provide us with the most exciting sport in the world.
Where would the NFL be today without teams with dynamic passing offenses like the Indianapolis Colts? The game has evolved into a high-scoring, fast-paced, game. Oftentimes, I hear people complaining that low-scoring games are “boring” games. Protecting wide receivers and quarterbacks is much more important for the NFL, especially financially. Just like “roughing the passer” calls have become more common and enforced with a somewhat smooth transition, the NFL can transition with less helmet-to-helmet hits.
Defensive players like Harrison have come out swinging against this new policy, with Harrison even contending that he was “contemplating retirement” because he no longer knows how to play football. This is a joke. There have been countless times where a defensive player has made a huge hit on an offensive player without it being helmet-to-helmet. Take then-Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown’s hit on Saints running back Reggie Bush in the 2006–07 NFC playoffs, and you’ll remember possibly one of the biggest hits in NFL history. However, it was a clean play, as Brown drove his shoulder into Bush’s chest as he caught the ball, resulting in an incompletion. Big hits can be legal, as long as the defensive player is careful about what he’s doing. As Robinson found out this past weekend, leading with your helmet puts you at a high risk for a concussion as well. Risking your health along with a fellow player’s health is never a smart play.
The recent policy change has brought focus on how the offensive side of the ball always gets the benefit with the NFL office. In an article from espn.com, Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Barnett said it best: “I think they are headed in the right way of protecting players, but at the same time, where's the protection for the defensive players?” One of the main problems with the NFL is its reluctance to punish offensive players as severely as the defensive players. Oftentimes, offensive linemen and other blockers use “chop-blocks,” which is when blockers intentionally undercut potential tacklers in an effort to take their feet out from under them. This has caused plenty of season- and even careerending knee injuries, which is something the NFL has to address as well.
Along with this, the NFL has to realize that there are times when helmet hits by the defense are not actually the defensive player’s fault. Wide receivers have a tendency to lower their helmets for impact when they run dangerous crossing routes, which leads to incidental helmet contact, even if the defensive player is aiming for the chest. The NFL has to make sure that it can differentiate between hits that are out to injure players and hits that are just meant to break up the pass in a decisive fashion.
Overall, the NFL has it right with this new policy. There is clearly a need to put restrictions on players who seek to “hurt,” and to help protect players from having terrible post-career lives while they suffer from the after-effects of too many concussions. Now, if only the NFL changed the policy on not allowing good touchdown celebrations, then everything would be perfect.