Nfl’s Support of Player Safety: Good or Bad for the Game?

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Since its inception in the 1920s, the NFL has grown to become the most popular sport in North America due to the physical nature of the sport. Legends, such as “Mean” Joe Greene, Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, Jack Tatum, George Atkinson, Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater, and Ray Lewis, made a name for themselves by delivering hard hits. These players were feared by their opponents, but beloved by their fans for their style of play. In the process, the league grew a culture of toughness and was defined as a “grown man’s sport”. However, now the NFL wants to eliminate that toughness in order to make the game safer. Today, the issue of player safety continues to be a hot topic in the NFL. In fact, the NFL recently passed two rules regarding the matter at the annual NFL Owners Meetings in Phoenix. One of the rules prevents offensive players from making cut blocks on defensive players below the waist from the blindside. This is a good rule because it will eliminate one of the most dangerous plays in the game. This will result in fewer torn ACLs and torn Achilles tendon injuries. In particular, Houston Texans star linebacker Brian Cushing suffered a torn ACL after he was cut-blocked by New York Jets offensive lineman Matt Slauson. Cushing missed the final 11 games of the regular season due to the injury. The other rule bans ball carriers or tacklers from initiating contact with the crown of their helmets in the open field. Under the new rule, a runner or a tackler would draw a 15-yard personal foul penalty if he initiates forcible contact by delivering a blow with the top/crown of his helmet against an opponent when both players clearly are outside the tackle box (an area extending from tackle to tackle and from three yards beyond the line of scrimmage to the offensive team’s end line). Incidental contact by the helmet of a runner or a tackler against an opponent would not be deemed a foul. The crown of the helmet rule is designed to take away a play that could cause a concussion, by making it illegal for players to use their helmets as weapons. The rule has received generally a negative reaction from both current and former players. Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith commented on the rule saying: “As a running back, it’s almost impossible to not lower your head. The first thing you do is get behind your shoulder pads. That means you’re leaning forward and the first part of contact that’s going to take place is your head, regardless. I disagree with the rule altogether. It doesn’t make any sense for that position. It sounds like it’s been made up by people who have never played the game of football.” Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk adds “Take the helmets off. Let's be honest, if you think the helmet is a weapon, take it off. Because I know that helmet on my head is not being use to head-butt anyone, it's being used to protect myself." Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte calls the rule “absurd.” Hall of fame running back Earl Campbell says “I do not think (the rule) is going to last. I think people want to see the running back running the football. I thought we were getting back to that, but pretty obviously we’re not; we’re getting farther away from football.” Earl Campbell was known for his physical and bruising running style and had a “linebacker’s mentality”. He would have had to change his running style if he was still playing today. While Matt Forte, Marshall Faulk, and Emmitt Smith, the league’s all-time leader in rushing yards, didn’t run quite as powerful as Campbell they are sure to be affected by the rule due to the nature of the position. The crown of the helmet rule is a just a footnote in a larger issue for the NFL and leads to a controversial question: Should the NFL change the rules of its game in order to advocate player safety? While the NFL thinks its protecting players by enforcing these rules, in reality they’re ruining the game by eliminating toughness and making the job harder for players and coaches...
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