Over the past several years, the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell have made what seems to be a concerted and pointed effort at improving the safety of football, especially in the area of head injuries. Two years ago, the league was debating increased fines and penalty yardage for helmet-to-helmet contact on a defenseless receiver. This offseason, the NFL has instituted a far more controversial rule, one that forbids an offensive player who is running the football from lowering his head and initiating helmet-to-helmet contact with a defender in the open field. In many ways, this rule makes sense. Defensive players are not allowed to lead with their heads, so it seems fair that offensive players should not be permitted to do so either. Given all of the recent studies on the long-term effects of concussions, any effort to reduce head injuries is commendable.
Despite these supposed benefits, many players are up in arms over its implementation. Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte was one of the most outspoken critics of the rule, posting on his Twitter account (@MattForte22), “In order to lower [your] shoulder [you] obviously have to lower [your] head. It’s a way of protecting [yourself] from a tackler and a way to break tackles. [You] can’t change the instinctive nature of running the football.” He later added that it was “the most
absurd proposal of a rule change I’ve ever heard of.”
Former NFL running back and legend Marshall Faulk went even further, saying that the rule change would actually
decrease the safety of players.
Faulk said to the NFL, “When you run the football with your chin up in the air, you’re going to get knocked out.”
Fellow Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith echoed Faulk’s concern when he said, “If I’m a running back and I’m running into a linebacker, you’re telling me I have to keep my head up so he can take my chin off? You’ve absolutely lost your mind.”
For many running backs, lowering the helmet is not done to inflict pain on the opponent, but instead to protect themselves from an impending hit. Taking this defensive tactic away from a running back’s arsenal could produce a result very
different than the NFL intended.
Although I understand the logic of the NFL and its rules committee, I do not think this new rule is a solution to the head injury problem that plagues the league. Not only does it have the potential to create more injuries than it could prevent, but helmet-to-helmet contact initiated by an offensive player is a relatively rare occurrence in an NFL game, especially when compared to similar hits delivered by a defensive player. The benefits of this rule just do not seem to
outweigh the potential costs.
To me, this new rule seems like just another facetious attempt from the NFL and Goodell to make it seem like they actually care about the safety of players. When we consider some of Goodell’s actions and decisions over the past few years, it becomes clear what the
Commissioner truly cares about.
During the lockout last summer, Goodell furiously pushed for an 18-game regular season despite vehement opposition from the players and coaches. Adding two more games to the regular season would boost revenues for each franchise but would expose players to an even greater risk of injury. As every season comes to a close, the wear and tear from a long, arduous season builds up and players are more likely to suffer an injury with each passing week. Playing two extra games puts players in even further jeopardy of sustaining a serious injury. But Goodell saw only the dollar signs of two extra weeks of football and ignored the obvious safety risks. Even though the new Collective Bargaining Agreement did not include the provision for an 18-game season, Goodell continues to push for its implementation.
In addition to championing an 18-game regular season, Goodell also successfully campaigned for adding 13 Thursday night games to the schedule this past season. The Thursday Night Football deal that the NFL signed was worth a reported one billion dollars. However, teams playing on Thursday night often ended up playing two games in the span of five days. This is absolutely ludicrous. Not allowing time for players to rest and recover is unbelievably dangerous and poses a huge risk for injury. There is a reason football is usually played only once per seven days, and Goodell completely ignored this cardinal rule in
favor of fiscal gain.
Goodell and his tight wallet also brought us the replacement referee fiasco of last season. It is a referee’s job to keep players safe and enforce the rules that are in place to prevent injury. The incompetent replacement officials clearly had no grasp on these rules and allowed games to get entirely out of hand. When players do not trust the referees to make the right calls, rules are broken and players get hurt. Goodell knew of these risks, yet he still allowed these clearly dangerous referees to officiate games for three weeks. Once again, Goodell chose money over safety.
Thus, Goodell, the supposed champion of player safety and head injury prevention, is no more than your average greedy businessman. Sure, he has implemented a few rules to help lessen head injuries, but his efforts are half-hearted. His actions over the past two years have made it clear that player safety is considered far less than the financial wellbeing of the NFL and its owners. Ideally, the new rule will help prevent a concussion or two, but the NFL will never truly become a safer league until player safety is placed above greed and profit.
Contact Josh Ellis at