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I’m torn on the NFL’s new “Crown of the Helmet” rule

Football is an inherently violent sport. We all know this, we understand this. Somewhere between the CTE comments on Twitter and how our reaction to big hits have changed over the last decade, we still know and understand that the sport itself is violent. We’re sitting in a strange place between knowingly watching people beat their heads in and ignoring the consequences of it.

We love our football.

So much so that we react negatively anytime they try to “soften” the sport. This new rule is part of it.

Under the change, a player will be penalized 15 yards and potentially ejected any time he lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent. It will apply to tacklers, ball carriers and even linemen, and it will take the place of a previous rule that limited the penalty to contact with the crown of the helmet.

Rich McKay:

“It just seems that players at every level are getting more comfortable playing with their helmets as a weapon rather than a protective device,” McKay said. “Therefore, we need a rule that is broad and puts that in context, and that’s what we think this does.”

I get it. When it seems like the game is being attacked more and more, you have to do whatever you can to make it seem like changes are being made. I give a tip of the hat to the rules committee for trying this: if it works, it’ll get passed at the collegiate and high school level. Once high school players come up in a culture where leading with the crown of your helmet is illegal, it’ll slowly change the natural culture at the upper level instead of trying to be reinforced through rules.

The main question is how do you enforce this? Think of the following scenarios:

  • Marshawn Lynch catches the ball out of the backfield and has a defender breaking down to wrap him up. His natural inclination, as would be the same with 90% of the league’s running backs, would be to lower his head to try to power through him. That would be illegal under this rule.
  • A technicality but: Matthew Stafford is lined up on 4th and goal from the 1. He takes the snap and lowers his head to charge forward on a sneak. That is technically illegal under this rule.

How tightly will you officiate this? Will this become a mess like the tuck or catch rules? Will there be a varying degree of consistency between refs?

I won’t say that something shouldn’t be done, the NFL can’t sit on its hands when it comes to safety if it wants to save what’s left of its reputation, I’ll just say that I want to see how this works out before I judge moving forward.

It’s easy to react and say “might as well put flags on them” but at the end of the day if it protects the players from the NFL all the way down to Middle School, then I’m all for it.


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