Do The Right Thing, Mr. Goodell

Injuries happen. Unfortunately, they’re a big part of sports, whether we like it or not. This is especially true in American football, one of the most physical, violent, and dangerous sports in the world.

The NFL initially screwed up royally by discrediting the findings of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered that former NFL players who suffered repeated head trauma during their playing careers likely led to them developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”) later in their lives. As such, the league was met with tremendous backlash, which forced them to pay closer attention to player safety.

Since then, the league has made significant strides in making the game safer, which included stronger enforcement for cheap shots on defenseless players and fining or suspending the offender responsible. They have installed a concussion protocol, which all players subject must pass in order to be cleared to play. While these changes are far from perfect, it has made the NFL much safer than what it once was. However, the latest rule change may be going too far.

Starting this season, the NFL has put into place a new rule which will basically prohibit players from using their helmets as a principal point of contact on any sort of play. Here is the full description of the rule, courtesy of NFL Operations:

The most significant change for 2018 is the new Use of Helmet rule. The rule states that it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. This rule pertains to all players on the field, and to all areas of the field.

The officiating standards for the Use of Helmet rule are:

  • Lowering the head (not to include bracing for contact)
  • Initiating contact with the helmet to any part of an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area — lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul.
  • Making contact on an opponent (both offense and defense)

Players can be ejected for use of helmet fouls — and all ejections will be reviewed by senior officials in Art McNally GameDay Central in New York. The standards for ejection are, if:

  • The player lowers his helmet to establish a linear body posture prior to initiating and making contact with the helmet;
  • The player delivering the blow had an unobstructed path to his opponent; and if
    • The contact was clearly avoidable

Players who violate this rule will be hit with a 15-yard personal foul penalty. This new rule was met with immediate skepticism and backlash among the NFL community. The uproar has since gotten louder since the rule started being enforced during the first two weeks of the preseason.

This season, we’ll be going from asking what a catch is to asking what a tackle is. Looking at videos like thee, how the hell are defensive players supposed to make tackles? Why not just make it two-hand touch or flag at this point?

Um, what? What exactly was the issue here? It didn’t even look like he was leading with his helmet. How are guys supposed to rush the QB now? That leads me to my favorite video clip of this article.

This one made my stomach churn. The NFL has made it clear over the past decade that protecting the QB is a top priority, but this is ridiculous. At this point, you won’t even be allowed to touch the QB at all. This new rule seriously needs to go.

The NFL needs to swallow their pride and accept that injuries will always be an integral part of this violent game. How long until this new rule drastically alters the outcome of a game during the regular season, or even worse, the playoffs? The smart thing to do would’ve been to perform a trial run with this rule during the preseason and evaluate from there, but when have we known the NFL to be smart about anything?

Roger Goodell has made a ton of mistakes during his tenure as the NFL’s commissioner. He ultimately needs to make a decision that will prevent his sport from becoming soft, unwatchable, and ultimately ruined. If I were in his shoes, here is how I would fix the problem with the new helmet rule:

  1. Rescind the rule and acknowledge that it would be too inconsistently officiated, and could threaten the outcome of close games.
  2. Advise that while the NFL has taken strides to improve player, football is and always will be a violent sport, and injuries will always be a part of the game. The players participating know this.
  3. This is the big one: Announce the establishment of a trust fund that will assist retired NFL players with any healthcare needs, neurological or otherwise, in their post-playing careers.

That third step will immediately make Goodell look like a superhero to all former, current, and future NFL athletes, and will tremendously help his negative legacy. For those saying that the trust fund concept (or any fund) isn’t doable, consider this. As the result of a 2013 lawsuit settlement, the NFL is already paying over $700 million to assist 18,000 former players. Establishing a fund for all future retired players will give them a greater peace of mind when playing such a dangerous sport.

As much as we want this rule to go, I’m afraid our cries will ultimately fall on deaf ears. We can only hope that the league office is monitoring this situation closely with concerns as big as ours. There’s still time to fix this issue before it becomes a disaster. Your move, NFL.

Photo: Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

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